Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Putt-Putt Enters the Race (1998)

I've been working my way through Humongous Entertainment's Junior Adventure games every now and then, and we're up to the fifth game starring the company's mainstay character, Putt-Putt the anthropomorphic purple car.  In this 1998 adventure, Putt-Putt Enters the Race, Putt-Putt... well, I guess the title is a bit of a giveaway, plotwise. 




The Humongous games use the classic Lucasarts SCUMM game engine, which founder Ron Gilbert licensed from his former employers, and the animation, music and voice acting are plentiful and of high quality.  These games are definitely aimed at children, and there's not much challenge here for seasoned adventurers, but they are true adventure games, and I suspect the recent resurgence in the genre's popularity owes something to players who grew up with Putt-Putt and friends.

The entire Humongous library remains commercially available at reasonable prices via Steam, and interested adventurers are encouraged to sample at least one of these titles; they don't take long to play, and while the stories are unsophisticated, some of the gags and characters are genuinely funny.  As always, my goal here is to document these titles and my playthrough experience in detail, so there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****




As the story gets underway, the mail truck arrives to deliver an invitation from Redline Rick to Putt-Putt, inviting him to enter the Cartown 500 race.  (There's a funny bit here as Putt-Putt's dog Pep sniffs around the mail delivery truck's tires, causing her to hasten on her rounds.)  Pep climbs into Putt-Putt's interior, we have nothing else in the inventory trunk, and we're off to the races! 

I notice that Putt-Putt's voice actor has changed, likely because the original child actor was sounding too old by 1998.  I didn't recognize the voice at first, but our hero is now voiced by Nancy Cartwright of Bart Simpson fame.  Putt-Putt Enters the Race continues the publisher's tradition of including lots of funny little incidental animations and sounds, as Mr. Gilbert had noticed that children too young to follow the story of his classic The Secret of Monkey Island still enjoyed clicking around with the mouse.  I'd be lying if I didn't say I tend to do the same thing on most screens, even though, unlike some of the Humongous titles aimed at older children, the truly useful items in the Putt-Putt series tend to be obvious and explicitly mentioned in dialogue.

A recurring motif of the Putt-Putt games, some kind of animal blocking the road in the early going, manifests in the form of an armadillo.  Putt-Putt has to think of a way to get the critter to move, and of course, his horn does the trick... oh, wait, no it doesn't!  It just scares the armadillo briefly into a ball, but then he uncurls and hasn't really budged.  Calling on Pep does the trick, though, with some impressively fluid hand-drawn cartoon animation.

We're at the Cartown Speedway in no time, and Redline Rick gives Putt-Putt a list of four things he needs to round up in order to participate: a triangular flag with the number 5 on it, high-octane gasoline, speedy radial racing tires, and a safety helmet (for Pep.)  Our objectives are established, and it's time for Putt-Putt to get to work exploring the map and solving some puzzles.


Clicking on a yellow car at the left side of the raceway screen triggers a substantial Beach Boys-style musical number, fully animated (though not full-screen) as the other cars encourage Putt-Putt to race and recap Putt-Putt's basic objectives.  Humongous was never hesitant to invest in this kind of optional but fun content, and I hope most kids discovered this little diversion.

As in earlier Putt-Putt games, Cartown is oriented around a central hub map, with seven directions we can explore.  I'll work through these in clockwise order, just to make sure I don't miss anything.

The toy shop offers some free batteries, so we'll grab those.  There's a racing-themed pinball game we can play here for fun -- the old-fashioned kind, where a ball drops down through a field of pins into scoring buckets or the drain at the bottom.  The proprietor is a matronly bumper car who likes to play with all the new toys, and she confirms that the batteries are free for the taking.

A feature from the first Putt-Putt game returns next door -- we can spend coins acuired in our travels at Cartown Color to get our protagonist a new paint job.  But I'll keep him his usual purple for now.

Smokey the Fire Engine at the fire station doesn't have a lot to say besides some cheerful, peremptory small talk.  There's an empty bottle sitting here, and Smokey asks Putt-Putt to do him a favor and get it recycled.  That's easy enough to handle, I guess.

Heading up the road north of town, we meet Pick-Up Chuck, a wrecker who's blown a tire of his own.  He's trying to pump it back up, but there's a triangular hole in the rubber and his efforts are futile.  He asks Putt-Putt to retrieve a tire patch kit from his auto parts shop, and cut it into the right shape to fix his flat.

Continuing down the road past Chuck, we find a more residential hub area.  Outback Al has added a new aardvark to his collection, but the poor little fellow is hungry and Al has forgotten what he eats.  Putt-Putt offers to save the irresponsible Australian zookeeper by finding something appropriate for the little guy.  I'm guessing ants, maybe?  Al has a triangular racing flag he doesn't need, but Putt-Putt is too nice to take it despite his offer without helping him first.

Mr. Fender-Bender is having problems with his cat, who won't obey his commands.  We can get another bottle to recycle here.

We can travel west from this part of town to a construction site, with a big "Nailers Wanted" sign posted.  The path is blocked by a load of heavy pipes -- Pete Crane here has lost his hook, so if we can find it we can probably get past this point to something new.  Inside the walls of the site, we can play whack-a-nail for fun, though it's not all that entertaining.  Still, if we finish at least one round, Betsy Bulldozer will give us a safety helmet the right size to fit Pep.  One item down!

The library is our next stop, where an encyclopedia of animals tells us aardvarks like termites, ants, and green grapes.  There's a good chunk of optional educational content here -- we can learn about 26 different Australian and African animals if we spend some time flipping through the book, and Putt-Putt reads a short poem about each animal aloud if we click on the text, a nice feature for learning readers.  There are some safety scissors here as well -- we can't take them along, as they belong to the library, but Putt-Putt says he can use them to cut things out so we will probably be back here with the tire patch material.

Heading north out of the residential hub, we find a pay phone that we can't really use aside from snagging a coin from its coin return, and another bottle to recycle. We can pass through a dark, narrow tunnel -- we have to honk before entering, per local traffic custom, lest we have a head-on collision with traffic coming the other way -- and run over something clunky we can't make out in the dark, so we need to come back here with a light source.

Next we arrive at a farm, where Torville Tractor lets us have his flashlight.  It's "broken" because it has no batteries, so we can readily fix that and return to the tunnel to acquire Pete Crane's missing hook.  I'll continue down the road this way, though, before we go back to Pete.  The farm road leads into an agricultural maze, where we can pick some green grapes in the northwest corner.  I can't figure out if Torville is supposed to be Swedish or Irish, his accent is a little ambiguous.

Pete is happy to have his hook back, and he moves the pipes, so now we can visit yet another little hub -- this game has a bigger map than the earlier Putt-Putt games, though it seems there's less to do in each location.

At the ice cream shop, we can acquire another recyclable bottle.  The proprietor is Rover, the lunar vehicle we rescued in Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon, and he gives us some milk or a milk shake free, though Putt-Putt just consumes the treat and we don't get to keep it in inventory.

The car parts shop has the radial racing tires we need, but the shop is closed while Chuck is out of commission.  Fortunately, there's a tire patch kit just sitting here for the borrowing, with Chuck's earlier permission, so we should be able to work this situation out.

We'll visit Mr. Crankcase before we proceed -- he has a bunch of junk in his front yard, which fell off some shelves when he bumped into it and "almost twisted my lugnuts."  We can fit the stuff back into place based on the shapes of the items and the available slots; a gas can is left over, which Putt-Putt is allowed to keep.  We can also recycle our bottles here, earning a coin for every three bottles we run through the machine.

Cutting a triangular tire patch at the library -- the interface here is nicely interactive, we have to find the triangle pattern and then cut from vertex to vertex -- we return to Chuck to fix his tire.  He gives Putt-Putt a deal on the racing tires when we meet him back at his shop -- one coin apiece, half price, but we only have three coins at this point so we'll need to earn some more.

I haven't visited Mrs. Airbag yet -- she has another bottle for recycling.  And we'll stop back by Outback Al's to give the green grapes to the hungry baby aardvark, and take the racing flag, though we still need to put a number 5 on it.

Back at the main town hub, we visit Mr. Baldini's Grocery Store.  He gives Putt-Putt a job -- going out to the farm and picking an orange, a zucchini, and a head of lettuce, for pay of two coins.  Perfect! (Cartown apparently has no child labor laws.)  We can do this again to earn more coins, but my priority right now is to buy the radial racing tires.  Chuck measures Putt-Putt's tires, a slightly uncomfortable moment for our hero:



How are we doing on our checklist?  We still need high octane gas and a number for our flag.  We can visit the gas station in town -- the gas is available, and apparently free.  We can fill Putt-Putt up -- he visibly vibrates and starts moving a lot faster than usual, apparently this stuff is quite a rush -- and we can also fill up the gas can so we have enough for the race.

What about that number 5?  It seems like we've solved most of the puzzles here.  There are some numbers on the activity table at the library, but they only seem to include 1, 2, and 3... ah, there are more once we take a closer look.  This "puzzle" is clearly aimed at younger players -- we just need to identify the number 5.

Now we're all set to enter the race!  This is actually an arcade-style event, where we steer with the mouse and the SCUMM engine is pushed pretty hard to present a simple 3-D race track with obstacles and fellow racers to beat.  The track is pre-rendered, spooled animation, I believe, but the oil slicks, ducks, and fellow racers are scaled sprites that work pretty well in motion, though they occasionally drift out of place compared to the background animation.

 

If we don't win the race, we can try again until we do, or we can choose to accept our best effort and end the game happily.  Putt-Putt and Redline Rick rightly point out that it's not all about winning.  And it's not actually all that easy to win the race, due to some rubber-band AI and sluggish steering.  But it is possible, and after several tries on my part, victory is ours!



Putt-Putt Enters the Race bears a strong resemblance to Putt-Putt's debut game Putt-Putt Joins the Parade, with some of the same characters and similar simplicity of design, and it doesn't feel as fresh this time around.  There isn't much of a plot here, nor anything really at stake beyond our hero's desire to enter the race.  But it's still a pleasant little children's adventure game, and there are a few more Putt-Putt titles we haven't covered here yet, so I'll happily continue with this series when the mood strikes.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 3: Baddest of the Bands (2008)


It's been quite a while (more than two years!) since I've come back to the Telltale Games library.  I'm currently thoroughly enjoying their current series Tales from the Borderlands, and it's high time I tackled Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People - Episode 3: Baddest of the Bands!  I really enjoyed this series based on the Chapman brothers' Homestar Runner web cartoon when it was released back in 2008, and this was my favorite of the five episodes, so I'm looking forward to seeing if it holds up to a replay.  These episodes were designed to fit within tight 50 MB space limitations for Nintendo's WiiWare downloadable channel, but the PC version is a little more liberal with audio quality and texture resolution, over 200 MB, and that's the version I'm playing here.


Like most of the early Telltale adventures, the Strong Bad series is played for comedy in keeping with its inspiration.  The writing and voice acting (Matt Chapman voices all the characters but Marzipan) is consistently high-quality and provides plenty of entertainment value.  But there are genuine puzzles here, unlike the more story/event-driven games the company has been producing of late, so if you've found the more recent Telltale titles less than challenging, you might want to seek this one out.

I can recommend Baddest of the Bands to all adventurers -- the humor may not be to everyone's taste but there's nothing offensive here, and it's a fine, well-paced point-and-click adventure.  It remains available via Steam and other channels including Telltale Games' own website.  Beyond this point, I will be detailing my playthrough experience -- so as always, be advised that there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****




The game begins with a game within a game, as Strong Bad turns on his Fun Machine console to play Limozeen: Hot Babelian Odyssey, licensed based on the once-popular (in the Homestar universe) hair metal band.  The gameplay is similar to Scramble or Super Cobra, but of no real consequence, as the game quickly glitches out and incites a little action.  The opening credits roll, as Strong Bad gets harassed by a small group of bats not usually indigenous to this world.

Strong Bad has to take the broken console to the mercenary Bubs, the only licensed repairperson in town, and Bubs' Concession Stand is added to the map (the game preserves the geographical vagueness of the characters' universe by allowing the player to place some locations wherever desired.)  We'll spend a little more time in Strong Bad's house before we set out, though.

There's no change or folding money to be found in the messy laundry pile, foreshadowing this adventure's primary obstacle -- our antihero doesn't have the cash to get his console fixed.  He also doesn't have any notebook paper, so any further Teen Girl Squad adventures will have to wait until he has something to draw on.  We can take the metal detector from Episode 2 along, it will likely come in handy.

Downstairs in the rec room, we find a pair of leopard-print pants in the sofa cushions, but no cash.  The Trogdor arcade cabinet is still out of order, as it has been in every episode so far, waiting on some parts to clear through customs. 

Next, we'll check out the living room and kitchen on the main floor.  We can greet the green bushes out the window rock concert style ("Good afternoon, green bushes, how ya FEELIN'?") and find a Limozeen shot glass in the Luxa Lounger.  We can also acquire a can of aerosol cheese from the fridge.  The microwave is out of order because "someone" fried some forks in it yesterday.

Upstairs on the top floor of the house, we can visit Strong Sad, our hero's considerably less confident brother.  He won't let us borrow his ancient "fillum"-based camera, and he doesn't have time to talk much.  We can get him to tell us he's decided to become a snooty rock-and-roll journalist (a concept Strong Bad finds laughable in and of itself), and that he's raising the bats (the Von Blaubluds) in his bat hutch.  He also advises us to take the broken Fun Machine to Bub's.  We can't borrow his fake sword either (it's made it back from Episode 2's Club Technochocolate.)

We can also visit musclebound Strong Mad, who is currently angry about his missing guitar pick to go with his (literally) heavy bass guitar.  We learn Marzipan has founded a band called Cool Tapes, and Strong Mad and the Cheat are involved; this adds Marzipan's house to our map.  In the closet is a scary demonic painting that whispers "COME ON IN HERE" and freaks our hero out (I appreciated the PC's audio quality here, as I never quite made out what it was saying on the Wii!)  We also run across an album cover defaced years earlier into the Best Album Cover Ever by Strong Bad (age 8), which we suspect will come in handy later on.



Finally, we'll check out the computer room.  Fiddling with the light switch turns up the cover of the manual for the Limozeen game -- this collecting-the-manual concept returns from earlier episodes, though it usually doesn't have much bearing on the outcome of the game.  Checking Strong Bad's email is always fun, and sometimes relevant to the plot, so we'll open the one message here.  This one's just for fun -- a fan writes asking for help naming a band, and Strong Bad suggests something futuristic like, um, "My Personal Jetpack."  We can try to unplug the laptop, but something's miswired and Strong Bad gets a brief zapping.  Potentially of use later on, methinks.

Outside the house, there's nothing in the mailbox, and we can't do anything with the metal detector, so we'll head off to see Bubs.  He has a diamond-plated record at the Concession Stand, but doesn't want to talk about his former life as a member of the hit act Two-o Duo.  He'll repair the Fun Machine in exchange for a "big sack o' cash."

Strong Bad can't raise the money by getting a job, of course -- "There has to be a more convoluted way" -- and a vision of Limozeen inspires him to stage a Battle of the Bands for profit.  Bubs offers to help promote the event and skim off the top.  He tells Strong Bad we need two things -- security (jacket provided by Bubs) and celebrity judges to attract an audience. 

An aging contest flyer posted nearby suggests a possibility for the latter need -- the winning album cover design will win a whole day with Limozeen, and it seems we already have a template, we just need to stage a similar photo.  We can also liberate Bubs' SECURITY stencil for further use.

We can wander around the large field surrounding Bubs' place to see what's going on in the usual hot spots.  Strong Badia (Strong Bad's plot of dirt with flagpole and tire) has been defaced with graffiti promoting rival bands on the white picket fence.  The cool car is leaking oil.  The whale is as hard to hear as ever, but pops his white plastic "spout," for no apparent reason.  We can steal a gold star from Bubs' advertising sign a short distance away from his stand. 

The metal detector activates here, and it's not hard to find a decidedly non-metallic treasure -- a poster from the very last Two-O Duo concert.  The band apparently consisted of Bubs and Coach Z.  Showing the poster to Bubs is not an option, though, this is just a collectible for background and bonus cred.  We can also find a pair of weirdly stylish Hollywood Boulevard shoes, and after that Strong Bad won't deploy the detector again so our treasure hunt here is finished.

Let's head to Marzipan's and see what Cool Tapes might offer in the way of puzzle-solving possibilities.  We can acquire a Zen rock from Marzipan's Zen garden, and use the detector to find another Limozeen shot glass.

Entering the house, we get an alert about an incoming email (we'll have to return to the House of Strong to read it) and find Strong Sad in the living room.  A few messages on the answering machine indicate that Cool Tapes is going to be playing at Bat Aid, and someone named Wade needs a publicity photo of the band, preferably with just the guy with the baseball bat (?) as the other members of the band tend to freak out the locals.

Strong Sad is here to cover the band's Bat Aid activities, in his capacity as snooty rock journalist, and he's trying to pick up any news about other cool new underground bands.  We can try to convince him that the Security jacket is a tour artifact from an up-and-coming band of the same name, but Strong Sad demands further evidence, like flyers or other street-team doings.  In a cage is an endangered Lithuanian Albino Vegan Bat, whose species is the intended beneficiary of Bat Aid this year.  Marzipan confirms this, and tells us the bat's name is Pasquale.

There's nothing else to do here at the moment, so let's go back home and check email.  This one's just a question about which era of rock rocked the hardest, and with more than his usual wisdom Strong Bad defines it as the era when the person thinking about it was 18 to 24 years old.  I take time to review the album cover design, now that we've explored a bit, and it looks like we need to ignite the oil around the cool car, put the star on its antenna, get a girl to hold a sword on the hood or roof, and put some kind of dinosaur in the foreground.  With the Brothers Strong out of the house, we can borrow the camera, the fake sword, and, with some hesitation, put the bat hutch into our pants-o'-inventory as well.  We can also open the other side of Strong Mad's closet to avoid the scary painting and acquire a stuffed toy dinosaur.  Progress already!

Let's go out to the car and set up the props we have so far.  We need a hot blonde, or a blonde at least, to hold the sword, and Marzipan is our only real option so that will have to wait.  We can use the lighter to light the oil, which will presumably stay burning until we can arrange the rest of the picture, attach the star to the car's antenna, and and put the dinosaur toy in place so the magic of forced perspective will make it look huge in a 2-D photo.  Close, but not quite there yet.

I stop by the Concession Stand to see if Bubs has anything new happening, and discover a Wesley Willis reference in one of Bubs' parting lines: "Rock over London! Rock on Chicago!"  I always admire jokes that only a few people are going to get and I had completely forgotten about this one.

Can we disrupt the Cool Tapes rehearsal by introducing the fruit bats?  Strong Bad doesn't think the Von Blaubluds are going to want anything to do with Pasquale.  And if we offer the sword to Marzipan, she refuses to be involved in the album cover project.  But Strong Bad says, "She's not the only blonde in town!"  Hmmmm.  Should we check out the photo booth and see if there's a wig available?  Or is the furry Cheat the blonde?  Ah, yes, he is!  And he'll be at the shoot, in a bikini, as required.

Let's get that out of the way, then -- and voila!  With added bats for extra coolness!




Now let's see about this Security thing.  Can we spray paint with aerosol cheese on the fence in Strong Badia?  Yes!  And Strong Sad shows up just in time to accept "SECURITY" as the next big thing he can be snooty about.  Bubs sees him in the Security jacket, hands him a billy club, and we're ready to mount Strong Bad's Battle Royale of the Bands!  After we mail off the album photo and win the contest, of course, assuming it's still going on -- the flyer seems to be about ten years old.

And, of course, in the blink of a transition, Strong Bad is the winner!  It's time to talk to Bubs about booking some bands.  He suggests the Cool Tapes, of course, plus Pom-Pom's band at the club (now on our map).  Strong Bad asks about Two-O Duo, but Bubs will have none of it and storms off, though we now have the track on our map so we might be able to arrange a reunion by talking with Coach Z.

Marzipan's been cleaning her aquarium when we arrive, and there's some smelly gravel lying in the front yard.  We can set the Zen rock in the pile to set a good example for its smaller relatives, though it's not clear why we are doing this.  Inside, we can grab a glossy publicity photo of Cool Tapes.  Marzipan would love to participate, but the Battle Royale is the same weekend as the Bat Aid concert.  Hmmmm.

Well, let's talk to Pom-Pom.  I'll wander around first, acquiring one of his albums ("Food Related Love") and talking to Homestar, who we are finally seeing in this episode.  Homestar wants to audition for Pom-Pom's band, but he forgot his accompanying music.  It seems Pom-Pom wants to make his piano act a duo, and it would probably serve our interests to help Homestar get the gig.

Pom-Pom is too busy looking at glossies of potential bandmates to listen to Strong Bad.  He has a slow cooker, for making victory chowder after he gets his band going.  Interesting.  We can squirt some aerosol cheese into it to make a nice fondue.

Ah, here's something tractable.  We can put Pom-Pom's album on the club's turntable, and Homestar gamely goes out and starts singing.  But he stumbles on the lyrics, and we need to help him out by pointing out various objects in the club to inspire him.  I always like these kinds of puzzles -- they're something new that point-and-click games with audiovisual timing made possible, or at least a lot more fun than text alone could have managed.

There are a number of food possibilities in the club, though this puzzle throws a few curve balls our way.  It's easy enough to rhyme "sing" with "buffalo wings," but Homestar doesn't recognize "escargot" and calls it a "plate of snails."  We fare better with the Merlot, then the snails, and then I have a little trouble with the fondue.  It turns out I was just standing in the wrong spot, and the retry lets us pick up at this last bit, so we're all set now.  Pom-Pom loves Homestar's audition, and accepts an entry form for the Battle Royale.

Let's go talk to Coach Z now, since I don't have any new ideas for convincing Marzipan to enter.  He apparently has a heavy crush on her and is too depressed to think about anything else.  He needs an encouraging "sign" from her, but the standard glossy in Strong Bad's inventory just goes into his collection.  We can acquire an unbent wire hanger from the shower, where it appears it is being used to clean the drain.  Coach Z won't let us take his Z-branded toilet paper or the bottle of bleach in a locker, but we do find an old Cool Tapes poster as a collectible.

The Snap Shak photo booth is fun but doesn't contain anything we can use outside, it seems, so let's talk to Marzipan again.  I check email also, but it's just another fan letter from someone who's being creeped out by a coworker, which Strong Bad misreads as "cow worker" to comic effect. We can get Marzipan to autograph a glossy -- she reluctantly agrees to sign it for Coach Z, even though he's been sending Cool Tapes some disturbing fan mail lately.

Coach Z is overjoyed at getting "all her best," and Strong Bad encourages him to go over there and tell her about his feelings.  This allows us to grab some toilet paper and bleach.  Can we bleach the bats somehow?  Strong Bad can't combine inventory items, but he does remark that the bleach should only be used in "laundry-type situations."  And yes, we can put the bleach and the bats in the washer, making them look a lot more like Pasquale.

Before we go inside Marzipan's house, though, we'll talk to Coach Z.  He can't even get Marzipan's attention and wonders what he should do next.  We can suggest he do the John Cusack Say Any thing by holding a boom box over his head, but he has tried and failed that before.  And his attempts at romantic poetry are just embarrassing.  We can suggest he throw some pebbles at her window, and he throws the Zen rock through it (so that's why we wanted to do that earlier!)  She is not happy, but Bubs is impressed that Coach Z has demonstrated some delinquent chutzpah, just like the old days, and a reunion may be in the offing.

We can release the bleached fruit bats to convince Marzipan that the species is not so endangered, and she lets Pasquale go to join his simulated brethren.  With the Bat Aid concert unnecessary, she agrees to enter the contest.  Two down!  (The early Telltale games often follow this long-time adventuring tradition of puzzles coming in three parts.)

Now we need to get that third band going -- Coach Z is not at the track, and to my surprise Bubs is not at the Concession Stand.  Where could they be?  If we try to steal the diamond-plated album, Bubs' new security robot kicks in and we're prevented from doing so.  But we can see Bubs is building the stages for the concert next door, however rickety they appear to be, and give him the signed entry forms for the two bands we have lined up.

Talking to Bubs about Two-O Duo gets us a peek at the cover of the old album, and one of the things they used to rap about was "TP'ing the stick."  With Coach Z's branded TP, we can convince Bubs that Coach Z is an O.G. again, or at least take a step in that direction.  The album cover also mentions "stealin' stuff from my own dang store," and while we can't steal the album from Bubs' stand (it's glued permanently in place), we can steal the alarm itself and shut the robot down.

Now we need to frame Coach Z for the theft.  The shower's not a suitable place to plant the evidence, but the trophy case is closer, though still not right.  Let's try putting it in his office... and yes, Bubs homes in on the stolen artifact, and is impressed by Coach Z's return to the wayward ways of his  youth.  Two-O Duo is back in business!

We have three bands now, and are almost set to go -- but after expenses, Strong Bad's profit on the Battle only adds up to half a big sack o' cash.  So he decides to form his own band -- with the remaining available characters, Homsar and the King of Town.  This does not bode well for success, but we're into the final act of this episode.

Cut to rehearsal and the naming of the band, where each member contributes something based on the player's selection of indistinguishable dialogue options, and I end up with "Deluxe Omelette Ink Machine."  Okay, I guess it will do.  The bigger problem is that D.O.I. sucks, and so Strong Bad's only hope is to sabotage all the other bands, who are now added to our map at the three stages Bubs has built for the event.

As I go to check out the Cool Tapes, I run into a technical bug -- none of the dialogue can be heard.  I save, go back to the main menu, and restore -- and now I can hear the voices, but Bubs' eyes have gone missing!  Time to relaunch the game, and everything appears to be in better shape after the restore.

We can obtain Strong Sad's billy club, as he prefers to engage using rational discourse, but he won't let Strong Bad onto the stage, tasing him for his trouble.

Limozeen has "arrived" in the form of a cardboard cutout with webcam and cheap speakers, while they cruise around in their tour bus and judge the contest remotely.  They like Cool Tapes' sound but not Marzipan's preachy remarks about the environment, so maybe we can provoke a little more of that in the act.  (I also discover that we can use Strong Bad's microphone to "rock out" in various locations, and sometimes a box will materialize, in this case containing a page from the game manual -- but as I have not been doing this earlier and some locations are now inaccessible in the game's final act, I'm not going to worry too much about it.)

We'll check out PomStar's rehearsal next -- Homestar is wearing earphones.  Suspicious earphones, Strong Bad thinks, as normally Homestar can't string two words together and now he's sounding smooth as silk.  We might want to interfere with his prompting.  Hmmmm.  We can't use the wire hanger on Homestar, but the talkative whale speaker is here (trust me, in the Homestar Runner universe this all makes some kind of sense) and we can use the wire as an antenna to aim its audio into Homestar's headphones, causing him to spout inanities and lose his audience.  Sabotage #1 complete!

The Two-O Duo are firing on all cylinders as we arrive.  How can we disrupt them?  The metal detector turns up a game manual page, but nothing useful for the challenge at hand.  There's a box of records on the stage that we can reach, being used as sample sources.  The names all suggest choreography -- "Slide to the Right," "Roll wit' Da Punches," "Left Shift Alt Delete" and "Doin' the Wigglie."  We can influence the order of the set by swapping the records around, so maybe we can sabotage the act this way.  Yep -- by moving Coach Z far to his left, then a bit to his right, then rolling and punching Bubs... well, it's not quite that simple.  We need some different elements to work with than what's available here, and we find those back at the House of Strong in Strong Sad's record collection, conveniently left in the living room.

Adding the "3 O' Clock Twist" lets us get Coach Z turned 90 degrees.  "Hugo Left Me Miserable" heads left, but not quite as far as the other record does.  Getting Coach Z to dance to his left, turn 90 degrees, shuffle left again, and punch does the job, and the assaulted Bubs leaves the stage and the act.

Now what about Cool Tapes?  Political discord seems like the right thing to inspire.  If we try to bleach the pond by Two-o Duo's stage, Strong Bad talks about Marzipan's wrath if he were to do so.  These puzzles have been fairly self-contained so far but this one seems a little more complex.  Marzipan's song is about wetlands pollution, apparently, so can we pollute the pond in a different way?  Ah, yes -- we can put the bleach bottle in the cardboard Limozeen's hands, and the auto-rocking arms dump it in!

Marzipan doesn't know this has happened, but we can take an instant photo of the pond with its dead fish and "Limozeen" holding the incriminating bottle of bleach.  But she won't look at the photo while performing, and Strong Sad still won't let us up on stage.

What to do?  Marzipan is also talking about the exploitation of women in the music industry, but we don't have our old album cover handy.  We need to get her to take a break, somehow.  We can't seem to show the photo to anyone else at the Cool Tapes stage, either.

Can we do anything new at the D.O.I. stage?  Homsar and the King are still making strange noises on the stage.  Oh, I hadn't noticed that the Limozeen cutout is here too, far off to the left.  And there's an official, unspoiled Limozeen coloring book sitting nearby.  Strong Bad is eager to take it home and "improve" it, so let's do just that.

At the drawing table, this becomes another Teen Girl Squad adventure, without interactivity this time, an optional exercise that became a little repetitive in the first two episodes.  The underlying original comic book is quite hilarious in its own right ("The band knows that publicity photos are all about doing different stuff with your hands!") and as usual, the girls meet violent, accidental ends along the way.  Maybe Strong Bad's "Teen Girl Squad Meets Limozeen!" adventure will be enough to draw Marzipan's attention... but we can't interrupt her with that, either.

We haven't been back to the PomStar stage in a bit, so let's go there and look around.  Ah, right, Marzipan is here when we're here.  We can show her the photo and the coloring book.  She is reasonably forgiving after seeing the first item, but is more upset with Limozeen after the second.  But she's still only at about two-thirds dudgeon.

I tried to attach the billy club to the Limozeen stand-up at the Cool Tapes stage, and the band expressed enthusiasm, but they have no arms at that location so I couldn't actually do anything.  Here, their right arm is waving, and... yes, with the coat hanger inserted in the whale speaker, the resulting photo gives the impression they are doing anything but saving the whales.

Now Marzipan is indignant enough to forgo entertainment value in her act, and sing an anti-Limozeen anthem -- with the audiences and the judges insulted by the catchy tune, we're the front runners!  Well, that is, until the crowd consisting of people in bands Strong Bad has just sabotaged shows up, driving his score on the contest meter to rock bottom.

D.O.I. genuinely needs to rock now, and Strong Bad has prepared some kind of impressive heavy metal prop that he can release by pressing a big red button at the other side of the stage.  Easier said than done, of course.  A big fan at stage right is blowing hard and preventing us from reaching the ladder, but we can advance just far enough to grab a spiked helmet from the nearby coatrack.  The wind blows Strong Bad across the stage on his knees, a cool if unintended move that scores a few points with the audience.

Next, I find that the button is freely available at stage left, but of course it's not working, because the King of Town has chewed through the wires connecting it to the release mechanism.  There's a fog machine here that's not creating the intended heavy metal atmosphere, due to the fan, so we  have a couple of reasons to disable it.

Experimenting, I put the spiked helmet on Homsar, who is playing an oversized theremin called the TheremAxxx by hovering and circling around it, and the audience likes that too.  We can use the metal detector here, but whatever it's picking up seems to be offstage, so I'll put it away again.

Introducing the King of Town to the crowd gets him to swing his guitar around and knock his last remaining snack lobster out of its bucket.  We can use it to cut the rope holding a speaker in place above the stage -- or achieve the same net effect, anyway, as the lobster's claws aren't sharp enough to cut it but the King of Town pursues him, knocking the speaker down and trying to hit the lobster with his guitar, much to the audience's enjoyment.

It's actually going well, if accidentally so.  What about the fan?  We can "conduct" Homsar around the ThereMaxx, raising him higher and circling wider until his spike lodges in the fuse box, shorting it out.  The bleached bats choose this opportune moment to arrive, circling the stage in a cloud of fog.  The crowd is going wild!

Now we can unleash the prop to end all props -- but it can't be seen as it's blocked by fog and bats!  The lobster bucket is one of the few unused items left onstage.  Pouring its buttery sauce into the fog machine butters the bleached bats, inspiring the King to leap into the air and eat them.  It's a fantastic and thoroughly metal intro, even though the band hasn't played a song of any substance, and the crowd carries the King of Town away on their shoulders, leaving Strong Bad victorious but alone on the deserted stage.

But all's well -- the Fun Machine is back in hand, with a few oversized bandages applied.  Except... it's still not in working order, until Strong Sad notices the wad of aerosol cheese stuck on the end and fixes the problem.  So this whole crazy rock'n'roll adventure was entirely unnecessary, but thoroughly entertaining.  Victory is ours!




The end credits roll over a nice medley of Homestar Runner songs, and after the credits there's a preview of SBCG4AP Episode 4: Dangeresque 3!  I'm actually falling behind on the Telltale games now, my five-year self-imposed embargo threshold having been crossed by several late-2000s titles, so I'll probably try to finish up this series this year.  Thoroughly entertaining in my book.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Adventure in Time (1983)

This week, we're embarking upon an Adventure in Time, written by Paul Berker for the Atari 8-bit home computers and published by Phoenix Software in 1983.  This was the second in an intended series that appears to have stopped after this game's release.  Berker's style uses a basic two-word parser, but his text is evocative and his puzzles tend to be fair and logical.  I recently enjoyed his first adventure game, Birth of the Phoenix, meant for novice players, so I wanted to try this ostensibly more challenging adventure next.



The title page informs us that a file has been stolen which documents the hidden components of a deadly, world-destroying weapon.  Our part in this story, then, is likely to involve recovering or destruction of said file and/or weapon.

Interested readers are, of course, encouraged to have an independent Adventure in Time before proceeding into my playthrough notes below, and I can wholeheartedly recommend giving this one a spin.  I didn't find any published walkthroughs for this game, but I was able to solve it honestly with a little head-scratching and quite a bit of backtracking.  Beyond this point, as always, be aware that for history's sake, there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****





As the story begins, we find ourselves in a living room, feeling WOOZY, AS IF YOU'VE BEEN DRUGGED.  Taking Inventory establishes that our PACK IS EMPTY (which seems less appropriate to this game than its predecessor), and there's a suspicious syringe lying here. 

A picture of a spaceship on the wall almost covers an area of heavily scratched paint; the picture is securely fastened to the wall.  We can GET SYRINGE, and I try to SMELL SYRINGE to ascertain what we might have been drugged with, but that's not recognized.  We can't MOVE the CARPET here (we can, actually, but nothing seems to happen), and the game sidesteps that old trope, but EXAMINE CARPET reveals a worn area near the south wall, where there's no obvious exit.

PUSH WALL surprises me by actually working, and a robot emerges from a hidden access door.  GET ROBOT seems an imprecise approach, but THE ROBOT IS NOW PROGRAMMED TO ACCOMPANY YOU ON YOUR TRAVELS.  We can't order the robot to do anything, it seems; at least, ROBOT, GET PICTURE is not recognized by the simple parser (I DON'T KNOW HOW TO 'ROBOT', it explains, so this parser must have been woefully embarrassed at 1980s dance parties.)

We can explore north, east, and west of the living room, so we'll do that with our robot companion.  A dormitory to the east is filled with badly worn military cots, and there are burnt scraps of paper on the floor.  A surviving fragment reads, "BURN AFTER READING."  Or is this a whole piece of paper?  I DON'T KNOW HOW TO 'BURN' so I'll assume this is just a fragment.

West of the living room is a kitchen, where we can acquire a pencil.  The walls are filthy and the cabinets are empty; a rat sees us and dives into a hole which we can't interact with, as HOLE is not in the parser's dictionary.  We're told that the rat looks at us HOPEFULLY, though, before it scampers to safety, so maybe we should try feeding it later on.

We'll head north of the living room now, into a north-south entryway that leads to... a cliff?  It's a lot like the one in Birth of the Phoenix, with the same 300-meter height.  We can acquire a hammer here and observe some birds, vultures most likely, wheeling through the sky at a distance.  The pencil is a DIXON TICONDEROGA 1386 NO. 3, a nice bit of detail.  I have to try to SAY PHOENIX here, but of course nothing happens in this game.

What now?  We can see a stud on the anterior surface of the robot.  PUSH STUD provokes the response: "I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANY HELP HERE."  So at least we know the robot might be helpful elsewhere, and in fact the game's HELP command refers us to the robot.

It turns out that PUSH STUD in the living room causes the robot to open up the south wall.  We can now explore the Security Room, which has exits leading east, west, south and southwest, opening up the map quite a bit.  The security monitors are dark, some apparently kicked in -- and there's dried green blood on the floor.

We can't go E yet -- CODE NAME, PLEASE? -- so we'll head south into a Laboratory, where it appears an alien skeleton has been under examination.  We'll take a soft cloth here, as IT COULD BE USED FOR PICKING UP DELICATE THINGS.  The microscope has nothing on its stage at the moment, but we'll likely be back to examine something later on.

The lab allows further exits east, south, and west.  Heading east, we discover a Library with rotting books, in an alien language with metallic bindings.  We can pick up a brown card, a blue card, and a manual, but I'm running into the game's six-item inventory limit so I'll have to drop the paper to pick up the manual.  The manual is badly mutilated and contains only a few apparently blank scraps of paper, though its title, A.I.T. 1984, might mean something.  I'll leave the cards here for the moment.

Southwest of the library (and south of the laboratory as the map begins to connect back to itself) is a Storeroom containing a translator and a laser.  The translator doesn't seem to help us with reading the manual, and I DON'T KNOW HOW TO 'TRANSLATE', either, if we try that.  But it will likely be useful at some point.

West of the storeroom is a greenhouse, lined with hydroponic tanks but nothing else of note.  West again leads us back to the storeroom, and going east from the greenhouse takes us all the way back to the security room; this seems like a mapping implementation error more than an intentional bit of strange routing, as it doesn't really take us anywhere new in any direction.  Northwest of the storeroom is the Computer Room, neatly filling in the last obvious hole in this section of the map as it adjoins the security room and laboratory with geographic consistency.

The computer room walls are covered in dials and gauges, with a smell of ozone in the air.  There's a computer keyboard here, with an instruction plate: "DATA MAY BE INPUT IF AUTHORIZED"; we don't need the translator to read this, so I'm not quite sure what has happened here yet.  Are we in an alien facility, or a domestic one?

I try to PUT MANUAL on the microscope's stage, and at least we learn how this works -- a speaker comes on and says "NO FINGER PRINTS SEEN," then the stage is cleared, dumping the manual onto the floor.  I try a bunch of items here, and the syringe provokes a more interesting response: "FINGERPRINT CANNOT BE IDENTIFIED, HAS BEEN SMUDGED."  So I probably should have picked it up with the cloth instead of my bare hands to avoid that problem.  Before I restart, I EXAMINE LASER to learn that we must SAY "F" TO FIRE THIS LIGHT LASER -- and we don't actually SAY F, we just use F (an efficiency whose value will become apparent later.)  I try Firing it a number of times without apparently running its power down, so we may be able to play with it freely; I do so, but find no obvious targets in the map we've discovered so far.

Let's restart and see if we can identify those fingerprints.  They belong to... Nostradamus!  We are clearly in for a bunch of vague quatrains that people of the future will consider prophetic in nature.  So were we drugged by Nostradamus?

This gives me an idea, and I head into the security room to SAY NOSTRADAMUS -- the security system comes on, and blasts us out of existence.  Whoops!  On the retry, I establish that saying other random words does not have this result, so we must be on the right track but missing something.  Having the brown and blue cards in our possession doesn't make any difference.

Can the robot help us again?  In the computer room, it advises us to "INPUT NAME, NUMBER OR CODE."  INPUT NOSTRADAMUS is productive: "NOSTRADAMUS HAS MASTER CODE NECESSARY TO MAKE FINAL TIME SHIFT. SEE 'HUNTER.'"  Hmmmm.  INPUT HUNTER tells us: "PRESENT ASSIGNMENT IS TO APPREHEND NOSTRADAMUS. IMPERATIVE YOU RECOVER AND INPUT MASTER CODE."  Ah, so perhaps we are this Hunter person?

SAY HUNTER in the security room appears to confirm this, as now we can travel east into the Control Room, where a sign near the Time Machine Console advises against operating the device without qualifications based on the A.I.T. manual.  If only it weren't mutilated!

Well, we'll try to use the time machine anyway, after we SAVE GAME to a formatted disk (or more conveniently, just save state in an emulator.)  The time machine's console featuers a dial labelled T1, another labelled T2, and a card reading device along with a lever in the UP position.  I INSERT BROWN, PULL LEVER... and die.  Dang.  The same happens with the blue card.

I try to READ T1 and READ T2 and learn that both dials are set to 1984, so perhaps that's part of the problem.  The cards don't seem to change these settings, though, and we can't TURN the dials directly.  The lever only has two positions, and apparently returns to the up position immediately, so we can't PUSH it past its current location.

I try to F the laser at the manual to no avail, but then it occurs to me that the U/V lights in the greenhouse might reveal any invisible ink -- and they do!  INSERT CONTROL CARDS, PULL LEVER, and RETURN WITHIN 40 are all we can make out, but that should help.

Taking the plural "CARDS" to heart, I INSERT BLUE, INSERT BROWN, PULL LEVER -- and I don't die, at least.  What can we accomplish in 40 turns, whenever we are?  We'd better get cracking!

Some exploration and retrying will likely be in order -- it appears we've traveled into the future, as the cave entrance leading from the cliffside back into the house has deterioriated, with plaster falling away to reveal wire mesh underneath.  I don't find anything else novel, so I return and PULL LEVER again, though it doesn't seem I've gone anywhere.

I try reversing the order of the control cards -- INSERT BROWN, then INSERT BLUE -- and now I seem to go back to -5000 (anno indeterminio, apparently.)  The entryway is still crumbling, but now we can travel down from the cliffside using a path.  This leads us to the Druids' Woods, and heading northwest we find the legendary Stonehenge, where we see a potion and an imposing stone altar.

There are exits north, south, east, and northeast.  North of the circle of monoliths we find some marsh seeds; northeast, we encounter a guard.  Fortunately, if we try to travel past him, the translator kicks in with a greeting that allows us to pass.

North of the guard is a meadow where some Druids are gathered.  We can pick up the flute here and PLAY FLUTE, creating pleasing music though nothing special seems to happen.  Heading south for a few moves and then northeast, we find a notepad with a faint indentation that we can almost make out, but we can't FEEL or TOUCH NOTEPAD to reveal its content.

Can DRINK POTION help us read the notepad?  Nope -- it's DISTILLED FROM THE DEADLY MANDRAKE ROOT, and we fall fast asleep and then die.  It seems we've explored the woods here now, so after a quick restore we'll head back up the cliffside.

I'm worried about the RETURN IN 40 admonishment, as I'm pretty sure I've wasted some time.  But I'm not sure what I should be doing next, anyway.  Examining the time machine console, I see that the blue card is in the slot and the screen depicts an old man with a knife in his hand at Stonehenge?  Is that a future version of us?  Someone we managed to avoid?  An ad for a stone-fired steakhouse?

I return to Stonehenge to investigate, and EXAMINE ALTAR suggests it can be moved; MOVE ALTAR reveals a small hole, with a green object in it -- a green card!  I'm off to ply my trade in the US, before I realize that it's probably another control card for the time machine.

I'm beginning to get the hang of this -- I INSERT GREEN, PULL LEVER, and now the cliffside leads down to a cave entrance, where a venomous snake is poised to strike.  F SNAKE is not useful except as verbal catharsis, and I die while experimenting; KILL SNAKE with the hammer works, though, on the retry.

Heading north of the snake, I find the cave dark, and I don't have a light source at the moment... oh, wait, I do!  F fires the laser long enough for us to get our bearings before the room goes dark again, a nice concept Scott Adams used a few times that works well here.  The cave is fairly large but not convoluted, consisting mostly of narrow passages, and I manage to find a yellow card, and a bow... the kind used to play a violin, upon closer EXAMINEation.

As I'm finishing mapping out the cave, I get a warning that the time machine is starting up... must be that 40-turn limit!  When I return to the house, I discover that the whole thing is gone, replaced by a large open field full of matted-down grass.  So I need to retry and pick these things up more quickly; it seems like we're okay if we make it back inside the building, as we'll travel with it even if it does fire up, so that makes this a little more manageable than I was thinking it would be.

Returning in good time this time, I INSERT YELLOW and see where we're going next.  I finally figure out that the console shows us possible hazards where we've arrived -- it showed the snake from the green zone earlier -- and now it depicts a burly guard.  I'll take the hammer, and the potion in case we can poison him, I guess, and definitely bring the translator.

The cliffside now leads down to a paved, tree-lined road, and we can head east here onto the Appian Way, the road used by the Roman Legion.  It leads east and then north to the Colosseum, where people jostle and shove to enter the building.  We can walk right in -- if we want to get eaten by a group of lions, that is.  That's a funny thing.  (Wait for it...)

I'll explore downward on our next life, finding a path west to the Forum. We're prevented from traveling north by the Men of the 1st Legion, who point and laugh at us, and we can't get away from them to go back the way we came.  I try to KILL MEN, but that's unsuccessful and fatal, as I expected.  They continue to guffaw after a restore, and I'm stuck again, and beginning to suspect that I am the funny thing happening on the way to the Forum.

Trying again, I head the other way and find the Alcove of the Soothsayer, acquiring a foul-smelling charm from this elderly Lord of the Sooth.  This allows us to enter the Colosseum (which I do without meaning to as I explore) without being attacked by the lions kept here in the animal holding area.  There's also a red card here, which we'll take before making our hasty retreat.

I don't find anything else to do here, so we'll use the red card in the time machine to visit the prehistoric era of the dinosaurs.  I am impressed by this game's substantial map!  The cliffside in this era takes us into a Mesozoic forest, and it only takes me a few turns of travel to die in a quicksand bog.  More exploration takes me past a dinosaur herd, only to die in the teeth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  I don't find much here beyond these two fatal hazards.

The dinosaur herd appears hungry, though, and I do have those marsh seeds.  I try planting them in the meadow, but conditions are not good and they rot and disappear as we watch (is time somehow accelerated here?)  But I don't find a better place to plant them, though the ground near the quicksand seems more suited to marshy plants.  The seeds are small; if we go into the bog with nothing else in inventory, can we survive long enough to plant them there?  Nope.

Can we play the flute for the dinosaurs?  It doesn't appear to do anything.  Can we rub the pencil on the notepad to reveal the writing?  Yes!  It brings out the note, "BACK OF DIPLODOCUS..."  Does that mean we can CLIMB DIPLODOCUS?  The parser doesn't think so, but we can try to CLIMB DINOSAUR; unfortunately, the wandering herd steps on us and ends the game. 

Do we need to plant the seeds in a different time and place to produce some feed for the dinosaurs?  I try going back to the Druids' forest where the plants originally seeded, but I neglect to bring the translator and get killed by the guard when I fail to return his greeting.

I think I need to be a little more organized -- I have left some useful objects all over the map at this point, and I'm not sure where to reclaim them in case I need them here.  The robot's absence is particularly missed, so I'll restart and try to leave everything in the control room.  (Along the way, I discover a bug -- if we MOVE ALTAR at Stonehenge, the green card is whisked back to its original location in the hole underneath.)

Can we impress the Roman Legion outside of the Forum somehow?  I bring the laser, and the flute, but neither does any good.  I do have the robot, however, and PUSH STUD says, "SENSORS INDICATE EXTREMELY LOW FEAR THRESHOLD TO CERTAIN ANIMAL LIFE."  Hmmmm.  The dead snake doesn't do anything for us.  How about the rat from the kitchen, if we can get it?  We can't lure the starving rat into our clutches yet, as far as I can figure out, anyway.

Let's see if the robot can help us with the dinosaurs.  Near the herd, he tells us, "ANALYSIS INDICATES REPTILES ATTRACTED TO UNUSUAL PLANT FRONDS AND ARE SUSCEPTIBLE TO CERTAIN DRUGS."  So maybe the potion, plus something else?  Oh, we have a greenhouse, don't we?  Let's try PLANTing the SEEDS there!  Yes!  Now we have some plants, and the potion. DIP PLANTS doesn't work, but DRUG PLANTS does the trick.

Now we can GIVE PLANTS to the dinosaur herd, and all but one falls asleep, while one remains upright, and sounds like it's... humming?  Ah, it's a machine, we discover after we CLIMB DINOSAUR, and there's a storage compartment in its back.  We can OPEN COMPARTMENT, obtaining a small vial.  But no card?  Maybe we're out of new eras to explore and need to do some backtracking now.

Uh-oh.  It occurs to me that perhaps the live snake is what I'm supposed to use to scare the Roman Legion, and I've killed it instead of, say, stunning it with the flute.  I restore to a much earlier save and PLAY FLUTE -- yes, it puts the snake in a trance, and we can carry it around with us now.  Hmmmm.  Let's see what happens.  (I end up leaving the flute in the cave so I can pick up the yellow card, so I hope I don't need it again.)  And yes, we can DROP SNAKE and it chases the Romans away so we can enter the Forum.

Inside, we find the Emperor Nero, and a violin, so he probably wants the bow... or maybe not, as GIVE BOW produces no reaction, perhaps because Nero is just cowering in a corner.  If we try to PLAY VIOLIN, we're apparently not nearly as good as we are with the flute, producing a TERRIBLE UNMUSICAL SOUND.  That may come in handy for opening the vial, methinks...

And yes, the shrill sound cracks the vial, and now we have a piece of microfilm; we don't even need a reader to see that it says, "MASTER CODE IS L99AV."  Now we're getting somewhere!  I return to the time machine facility's computer room and I INPUT L99AV.  We're asked to SEE T1 DATA FOR INPUT INFORMATION, and we can return to the time machine control room to check; READ T1 yields 2396, so is that what it wants?  INPUT 2396 does look promising -- we're told that Nostradamus has been located and transportation is in progress, and we're supposed to PROCEED TO EXIT, which I presume is at the cliffside.

And yes, we discover Nostradamus at the cliffside, finishing reassembly of the Ultimate Weapon.  But I don't have a weapon of my own with which to stop him -- I try to PUSH NOSTRADAMUS off the cliff, but that's not possible, and my attempt to KILL NOSTRADAMUS with my bare hands results in a struggle that accidentally sets off the weapon and destroys most of the known universe.  Trying again with the hammer in hand -- fortunately there's not a strict time limit on this and we can go grab it before stepping outside -- we succeed at last!  The universe is saved, and victory is ours!




Adventure in Time is a well-designed, moderately difficult adventure that's a lot of fun, and in my opinion it should be better known than it is.  I enjoyed working through its logical puzzles, and when I realized I'd taken the wrong path I never felt like the game had misled me or omitted a critical piece of information.  The text is well-written, and all the required clues are present if we're careful to explore, experiment, save often, and restore when things go wrong.  I wish Paul Berker had written more of these games, as I've enjoyed the two I've played, but all good things, as they say.  Onward!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Birth of the Phoenix (1982)

This week called for something fresh but brief, so I'm tackling an obscure adventure for the Atari 8-bit computers... Birth of the Phoenix, a novice-level tutorial adventure published in 1982 by Phoenix Software, programmed (and designed I presume) by Paul L. Berker.  A version reportedly exists for the Apple II, but I haven't been able to track it down.



Mr. Berker's design uses a two-word parser, with an unusual hybrid presentation style that borrows the Scott Adams location summary display at the top of the screen, but also displays quite a bit of descriptive text in the interactive command window below.

Interested readers are of course encouraged to experience Birth of the Phoenix firsthand before reading my playthrough notes below.  It's not a difficult game, though without the manual to look at I did need to reference a walkthrough at the CASA Solution Archive to come up with the magic word required at a critical juncture.  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my experience with little regard for giving anything away.  In other words, there are sure to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****



We begin in a dark forest glade, in the autumn, with nothing in inventory (thoughtfully represented as an empty pack).  There's a book here, and if we READ BOOK, I DON'T SEE THAT HERE!  Um... it is right here, in the room, but we have to GET BOOK and OPEN BOOK before we can READ it to discover that THE PHOENIX IS REBORN EVERY 500 YEARS BY BURNING THE OLD PHOENIX.  Okay, that probably sets up the game's finale in some way.

We can predict that this is not going to be too much of a challenge when we head east to a Toolshed, where we see a shovel and a flashlight just here for the taking.  I try to DIG -- WITH WHAT? -- SHOVEL, but THE GROUND IS TOO HARD TO DIG HERE.  I try to LIGHT FLASHLIGHT -- SORRY BUT I CAN'T DO THAT!  TURN ON FLASHLIGHT and USE FLASHLIGHT also fail, but ON FLASHLIGHT does the trick -- unfortunately, the light is MIGHTY FEEBLE and the switch is now jammed in the ON position.  And I DON'T KNOW HOW TO 'OFF', just in case we thought we might try that anyway.

The flashlight only lasts a few turns, so I probably tried to use it too early, but let's keep going and see what happens.  West of the glade (the toolshed is a dead end) we find a forest with a conspicuous tree.  CLIMB TREE leads us up to the tree top, where we see a branch and a net.  I am surprised to find that this simple parser provides some detail when I EXAMINE NET, learning it's made out of a soft material.  There's a branch here, but we can't GO BRANCH or CLIMB BRANCH; it's apparently smaller than I was imagining, as we can readily GET BRANCH.  Before descending, I note that the ground is still too hard to dig, up here in the tree where one wouldn't expect it to exist, let alone put up much resistance.

Traveling north through the forest, we arrive at a clearing with a well and the burned out remains of a wood cabin.  There's a rope leading down into the well, so we'll chance heading down there and hope we can return.  It's very dark, and our narrator is afraid of snakes, so we'll head back up for now; I probably shouldn't have wasted the flashlight earlier, so we'll handle this differently on the next go.

East of the well we find a cliff, with a raging rapids 300 meters below.  We can't get down there from here, but we can continue East into a shallow cave containing a dial and a safe (so a combination lock, it would appear, then.)  We can't OPEN SAFE (because we don't have it and can't GET it) but we can TURN DIAL to a specified number.  If we fail, a disembodied voice heralds our failure.

I'm sure there's a clue to the combination somewhere in the game, but I like trying to crack these freestyle sometimes, and some experimentation establishes that the first number of the combination is 10.  More work gets me to 10, 22, but then I get stymied on the last one and after a while I decide to look for the real answer elsewhere.

This also seems like a good time to start over to conserve the flashlight's battery, but all I get from the bottom of the well are some (RUBIES), apparently a treasure.  I try to JUMP at the cliffside to cross the chasm, but fall to my death.  On the retry I confirm that we can GET RUBIES without turning on the flashlight at all, just in case it proves valuable at all later.

I wonder if we can make a bridge across the gorge using the branch, but DROP BRANCH doesn't seem to do it and MAKE BRIDGE isn't recognized.  I was doing so well up to this point, but after trying a number of things with the limited objects we've run across, I decide I am actually stuck here, so I consult a walkthrough to learn that if I'd read the manual (and had a copy to read) we can SAY PHOENIX at the cliffside to magically cross over.  Here, some numbers are carved into the cliff: "10 22 35."  I must have missed that last one -- I was thinking it might represent a date, maybe the author's birthday, so I jumped into the 60s and up while searching for the last number, then worked my way back down but clearly wasn't methodical enough in the thirties.  There's also a key here.

Before we go back to open the safe, let's check out the paths to the northwest and northeast.  Northeast takes us up a road to the mountains; there's a stick here, which we can take.  Continuing north, we find ourselves at a mountain pass.  We can see but not pick up a clock here, and while I keep trying to DIG the ground remains resolutely firm and unyielding.

The clock is running down, and before I quit trying to pick it up and realize I need to go back and get that key (which I neglected to pick up earlier) in order to WIND CLOCK, the game ends because YOUR TIME HAS RUN OUT BECAUSE YOU'RE RUN DOWN.  Retrying, I get the clock wound until it's ticking briskly again -- this seems to solve the problem permanently -- and then head west onto a rocky road where we see and pick up a potion.

Continuing west, we find ourselves on the road to Heliopolis, and can acquire the (SAPPHIRES) here.  The unpassable road west apparently leads to Oz, based on the signage, which may explain the road's pavement of yellow bricks.  But we can only go north, to the Treasury, where we're supposed to store our treasures.  I DROP RUBIES here, and check SCORE -- that's 30 of the possible 100 points already, and depositing the sapphires here gets us up to 60.

Heading north again takes us into the Temple of the Sun, where there's some myrrh on hand.  A phoenix is carved into the altar's marble base, and YOU FEEL A SENSE OF SERENITY AND ACCOMPLISHMENT HERE.

But that feeling seems premature, as we haven't finished the game yet, so we'll return to the cliffside and head northwest to find a Guardhouse, guarded by a guard, per longstanding and well-guarded traditions of guardianship.  The ground here is crumbly and soft, and our feet sink into it, dirtying our socks, which provides an ample hint that we should DIG here.  The action unearths a bag, and OPEN BAG scatters a bunch of funny little pieces of colored paper on the ground, along with a label reading, "MAZE MAPPER (PAT. PEND.)"  Is there a maze ahead here?  The guard won't let us proceed to the northwest.

I'll go back and get the diamonds, and after we drop them off at the Treasury we're up to 90 points.  What about those pieces of paper?  We can take the myrrh from the Temple -- I'm not sure that's a good idea but it's not immediately fatal -- but the guard's not interested in it.  If we GIVE POTION, however, he drinks it and falls into a deep, happy sleep.

Ah, I get it -- the different-colored pieces of paper will probably make it easy to map out a maze instead of using other inventory items we might not want to leave scattered around.  Heading NW from the guardhouse, I find the expected maze, and use the colored slips to map things out, finding the Inner Sanctum of the Phoenix without too much trouble.  The Phoenix won't be EXAMINEd -- it hisses and spits as we attempt what must be a more hands-on approach than this standard adventuring verb usually implies-- and we can't initially GET PHOENIX, but we can CATCH PHOENIX with the net, then GET it successfully.

Now what?  The Phoenix's nest seems rundown, so perhaps we're supposed to burn the mythical bird and help it regenerate, though BURN PHOENIX isn't recognized.  Getting back out of the maze is a little tricky -- we can't get there with cardinal directions, but U takes us back to the maze entrance, I finally discover, and we can go SE from there to return to the Guardhouse.

It seems like I ought to take the phoenix into the Temple of the Sun now, so I do that and drop it here.  I try to BURN PHOENIX again, but BURN still isn't recognized by the parser.  ON MYRRH and LIGHT MYRRH don't do anything here.  The branch we've been carrying is very dry and brittle, but can't be lit directly.  The stick is reportedly AN UGLY STICK.  And we can't START FIRE, as the parser doesn't recognize START.

So... hmmmm.  RUB TWIGS?  This is helpful, at least, as the verb RUB is recognized.  RUB STICKOK.  NOTHING SEEMED TO HAPPEN.  I pick up the branch and try again -- and now, with no further direct action on our part, the wood bursts into flames, and the Phoenix voluntarily leaps into the fire.  It is consumed, then reborn, and victory is ours!




Birth of the Phoenix was a little more fun and challenging than I had anticipated, even though it's not a lengthy game, about 90 minutes with note-taking included.  It's a well-structured design with some nicely written prose, and I'm a little bit surprised that Paul Berker only wrote one other adventure game, again for Phoenix Software, called Adventure in Time, and that's on my to-play list now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse (1996)

I've found the original CD-ROM releases harder to track down in thrift stores of late, so I was glad the whole Humongous Entertainment library of Junior Adventures has become available on Steam.  This week, I'm playing Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse, published in 2006.  It's the second in the Freddi Fish series, starring a helpful young fish (who is meant to be female, apparently, though the name is conveniently ambiguous) who spends her time solving simple community mysteries.  This one, as the name suggests, concerns an apparently haunted schoolhouse.




Humongous Entertainment was founded by Ron Gilbert (The Secret of Monkey Island), and he licensed the classic Lucasarts SCUMM point-and-click engine for his company's work.  This game uses the 640x480 resolution version, which remained in use at Humongous for some years after Lucasarts transitioned to 3-D, and takes advantage of CD-ROM storage with plenty of detailed, colorful artwork, a huge amount of animation, and quality voice and music tracks.  The Steam editions actually run on ScummVM, maintaining compatibility with current hardware.
  
I realize many of my hardcore adventuring readers won't find Freddi Fish 2 challenging enough to tackle; it's aimed at younger children and the plot is very straightforward, livened up with plenty of non-essential clickable interactivity for the fun of it.  But I'd still encourage you to sample something from the Humongous library at some point, just to see what the company did with the animated adventure genre during a period when most other commercial activity had ceased.  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my playthrough experience and there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****







The story begins as Freddi Fish and her friend Luther are trying to make their way to school on time, with Luther carrying his Codfish Commando action figure and Freddi's inventory empty.  We can only travel to the right, following a sign leading to the schoolhouse.

Clicking on a harp on the next screen creates musical accompaniment for a short song by our heroes concerning their readiness for school -- this game is full of these brief musical numbers.  As weenter the schoolhouse, we learn (with considerable economy of storytelling) that the young guppies are hiding because a ghost has been scaring them and stealing their toys.  The same befalls Luther, as a ghost that looks suspiciously like a shark in a sheet makes off with his action figure, and our plot is underway.

Freddi is quite plainly skeptical about the existence of ghosts, something not often seen in children's entertainment, and she vows to track down the ghost and reclaim the stolen toys.  We can prompt the schoolteacher to sing a song by clicking on some sheet music on the wall.

There are plenty of other clickables here, but we'd best get to work by exiting the school and looking for clues.  The "ghost" obliges by lurking on the next screen, exiting down the stairs before Freddi and Luther arrive.  We can acquire a pair of plastic-coated safety scissors here, reminding me that it's a good reason to click on everything just in case an object proves portable.  Fortunately, we don't have to wait for the incidental animations to finish before starting another one or exiting the room, so we can click merrily away, launching a bunch of clickable gags without getting bogged down.

Continuing down the stairs, it appears we're meant to be tracking the ghost, who continues to appear and let us know where he's headed.  We finally catch up with him in the school basement, where he leaves a piece of his sheet behind, confirming it's just a costume.  Freddi draws up plans for a ghost trap, requiring us to track down a trident, a life preserver, a diver's helmet, some rope, and a pulley.  So our main objectives appear to be laid out now.

Our heroes hide as the ghost returns, revealing itself to be the two incompetently villainous sharks from the first Freddi Fish game, Boss and Spongehead, in disguise.  They will return from time to time, but our fishy friends can always hide when we hear them coming and we're free to continue exploring.

We can enter a deeper hall, where we find a coral formation resembling rope but not functioning as such.  A room at the end of the hallway provides a book about untying knots, which we can take with us, and a chute here leads into deeper, darker quarters where we can acquire a purple sea urchin.  This appears to be the end of the line in this area, so we'll work our way back outside the school now.  This is a new part of the map, skipped over during our earlier visit to the school, acting as a hub with signs leading in several directions.

We'll head right (east?) to visit the Old Ruin first.  A little fish here named Casey loves math and science and has lost his glasses, not that there's any cause-and-effect relationship there... oh, wait, there is -- his eyes bugged out reading Scientific Aquarium magazine and knocked them off his face.  His glasses appear to have fallen down a hole, too small for Freddi to enter, but Luther is able to go exploring -- he bounces around down below but doesn't come up with the glasses.  We have to enter again and actively guide him down a specific path to locate them (there are only two possible paths, so this isn't difficult or tedious.)  We can't go back the way Luther came due to a strong current, so we'll go another way to return to our starting point.  In return, Casey gives us a high-powered slingshot that shoots super-sneaky turbo rocks.

Continuing to the right, we meet a sea turtle who is always at home wherever he happens to be.  He doesn't seem to need anything from us at the moment, so we'll continue east to an old, sunken temple dominated by a statue of King Neptune.

 

He's holding a trident -- can we take it?  We can, but it's stuck -- the ceiling doesn't provide enough headroom to slide it out of the statue's grasp, notwithstanding the archaeological damage / cultural looting this casual theft would appear to represent.

A sliding tile puzzle is available here, above the trident, and if we can arrange it so the open spot is right over its tip... yep, that works, and now we only need four more items.  I didn't initially try to solve the puzzle and was surprised that we don't need to, but it's complicated by one big tile that's twice as large as the others.  We earn a little fanfare if we get everything in place, but that's our only reward.

We can continue from here, heading to the upper right to find a baited fishhook.  Freddi prevents the hungry Luther from taking a bite out of it, asking only that he "stop overacting!" in return for saving his life.  We can poke at the worm with the trident, causing the fisherman above to reel it in, but it returns.  The scissors work to sever the line, adding the chocolate covered worm doodle to Freddi's inventory.  Humongous Entertainment's very first character Putt-Putt puts in a brief cameo here on an underwater television set, and this area is otherwise a dead end so we'll head back to the schoolhouse.

Northeast of the school, we meet a manta ray who plays the blues with a cello.  He's not particularly fond of kids, and persists in trying to get them to move along, but if we click on his instrument he'll inform us (in song) that he likes to trade for things.  We have nothing that we can use with him -- some items remain permanently in inventory, others can be manipulated but don't do anything here, so we'll have to keep looking.

Past the ray, we find a Pulley Emporium, where perhaps we can buy the pulley we need to build our trap.  We also find a movie theatre and a Hall of Fame in this part of the ocean.  At the movies, we can watch brief scenes from a number of movies we can select on the "Now Playing" display, including William Shakespeare's Chumlet, a drag strip movie called The Krill Seekers, a horror film involving a mummified, canned sardine, Codfish Commando, Fish Gordon, an ad for Worm Doodles, and a Spy Fox trailer.  There are 16 of these short animations to watch, and none are essential to gameplay -- it's all just for the entertainment of the player (and the animators, one suspects.)

The Pulley Emporium is run by a genial octopus named Barnacle Bob.  He speaks in rhyme and has one pulley for sale, at the price of five sea urchins, so we'll have to hunt some more up.  (We can try to offer him less, but there's no layaway plan available and for design simplicity's sake he returns whatever we've given him if we don't have five on hand.) 

The Hall of Fame features portraits of famous fish-folk, but nothing we can acquire (and no sea urchins either).  So we'll go back to the schoolhouse and explore to the upper left, passing through a lovely underwater area to a set of tide pools.

Freddi and Luther can't jump very far, so we have to navigate the pools carefully to reach the other side; once we've accomplished this one time manually, our heroes will automatically find their way back and forth.  On the other side, near an underwater cave, we find another sea urchin, so we'll take that.  The cave houses Mr. Triplefin, an aging cowboy fish who'll pick up his guitar and sing a Western ditty about his home, and he'll tell quite a few silly, pun-heavy fish jokes.  But there don't seem to be any puzzles here at the moment, so we'll continue to the northwest.

We find a set of towering rock formations here, with a valuable sea urchin perched higher than Freddi can jump.  The slingshot proves useful here, requiring us to aim a high-tech cross-hair to knock it down.  We have three urchins now!  To the left/west, we can play a game much like Atari's Centipede, but played in very slow motion as Luther spits water at advancing lines of crabs; this is just for entertainment's sake, in the Humongous tradition, and we are given the opportunity to quit between rounds.

It's time to go back to the schoolhouse, and explore to the lower left.  There's a diving helmet here, but it's snagged on some kelp and Freddi can't pull it off, even with Luther's help.  The schoolhouse scissors do the needful, however, and now we have two of our five trap pieces.

Continuing west, we find another sea urchin, and passages heading upward and downward.  The northern passage is occupied by Eddie the Electric Eel, guarding a life preserver.  He says it's not his, but he's in a bad mood because he missed lunch.  Freddi convinces Luther to give Eddie the chocolate-covered worm doodle, sending him away with a sugar rush.  We have three pieces of the trap rounded up now; we just need some rope and one more sea urchin to buy the pulley.

The downward passage leads us to a Norwegian flatfish who has some -- how convenient -- rope!  He'll only give it to us if we can untie its long-standing knot, but we have our book to help out.  We have to pull on the four ropes in the numeric order indicated -- if we make a mistake, the knot randomly reconfigures itself, so we have to find the right knot shape in the book and try again.  With the rope in hand, we just need one more sea urchin, which it seems I may have overlooked along the way as we're running out of new map locations.

A cutscene at this point shows us that the villainous sharks are trying to clear out the schoolhouse on the Squidfather's orders, for mysterious reasons as yet unexplained (if this were a Scooby-Doo episode, I'd guess that they're trying to scare the oil-drilling farmer's environmentalist hippie theme park-operating neighbors off the banker/lawyer/developer-coveted land, but we're underwater so that seems unlikely.)  We can explore a control room of sorts in a derelict submarine, but there doesn't seem to be anything to do here so we'll head back toward the schoolhouse and see if we can find that final sea urchin.  We don't have any open slots in our inventory system, and the manta ray doesn't seem interested in trading for anything, and I never did find anything to do with him so this appears to be a design idea that didn't ultimately pan out.

Returning to the school, we can tell the teacher what we've learned so far but she's of no real help.  But I do find the final sea urchin in the school's basement, and now we can buy the pulley from Barnacle Bob.

On the way there, the sharks appear to warn Freddi away from snooping around the schoolhouse, but of course that's their job and Freddi is not discouraged.  With the pulley in hand, we can build our Rube Goldberg-esque trap (with some nice montage animation) and wait for the "ghost" to fall into our fins.

 
The sharks end up trapped in a cage, and shamefacedly admit they've been stealing the toys for the Squidfather, who never had any as a child.  Luther takes pity on the villain and gives the sharks his Codfish Commando action figure, a noble if unlikely-to-affect-the-local-balance-of-criminal-power act of kindness. 

We take the toys back to the school, and the game is rather abruptly at a happy ending -- the teacher barely has time to say that we've saved the school before the end credits roll, and it took me a couple of tries to grab this screenshot.  Victory is ours!



I am always struck by the high production values of the Humongous Entertainment adventures -- they're never really challenging for adults, but they're good-natured family fun and technically a few steps beyond the Lucasarts and Sierra games that preceded them.  If point-and-click games for a grown-up audience had survived a few years longer, I think we would have seen more elaborate 2-D productions like these.  But these children's games helped keep the genre alive between the classic era and the recent revival, and I'm enjoying them on their own simple terms.