Monday, February 28, 2011

The LoadDown - 02/28/2011

Time to round 'em up again... it's a dry week for classics, and it appears that Game Room has indeed gone dormant.

WiiWare --One new game and two demos this week.  BIT.TRIP FLUX concludes the retro adventures of CommanderVideo with a Pong-style challenge for one or two (cooperative) players.  There are also free demos available for Gods vs. Humans and Pong Toss Pro: Frat Party Games.

Wii Virtual Console -- Nothing new here this week.

DSiWare -- Three new titles arrive.  My Little Restaurant is a time-management game.  Magnetic Joe is a maze/puzzle game with 100 levels and an interesting play mechanic.  Monster Buster Club is a top-down action/adventure game with a variety of play styles, based on the animated television series.

XBox Live Arcade -- Two new titles.  Bejeweled Blitz Live is yet more matching-tile puzzle gaming from PopCap Games.  Days of Thunder Arcade is a variation of last year's Days of Thunder; the PS3 gets a slightly enhanced version, see below.

Game Room -- Going and gone!  Until I hear otherwise, I must assume that the promise of Game Room ended premtaurely and largely unfulfilled.  Pity.

PS3 on PSN -- Two new titles this week.  Days of Thunder: NASCAR Edition is a racing game, obviously, adding NASCAR licensing to the 1990 Tom Cruise racing movie; the game is being released by Paramount Interactive, so the name and character rights were handy.  And Digital Leisure continues to squeeze profit out of the Don Bluth/Rick Dyer laserdisc lineup by bringing Space Ace out as a PS3 download.

PSOne Classics -- Nothing new here this round.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 Catalog (part 1)

Some of the ephemera in my collection isn't necessarily interesting at a glance, so I'm going to try something different.  I'm going to pull out a vintage catalog or brochure and go through it in detail, page by page, product by product, over a series of weekend posts, and discuss whatever seems interesting about the material at hand.  Sometimes the catalog content itself is all I will have to present; sometimes I'll be able to provide some more historical background and detail.

I'm going to start with a now-forgotten TRS-80 publisher called Acorn Software Products, Inc. -- I never bought any of their products, but judging from the wear on the cover I must have read through this Fall 1981 catalog a dozen times as a youngster, when the industry was new and exciting and my software acquisition budget extremely limited.  I haven't looked at this in more than twenty-five years, and I hope that will help keep this series fresh and interesting.

Here's the front cover, not particularly remarkable beyond the font selection, which reminds me of the Electronics Boutique software chain's logo:

Opening the catalog, we find an introductory note to "Dear Computer User" written by the company's president, Daphne B. Schor -- notable in itself, as there weren't a lot of women executives in the industry at the time.  Her note is personal in tone, soliciting customer feedback -- the user base was small, the software industry was very new and publishers were still trying to figure out how to address the needs of the market.  We also see that users had to do some of the heavy lifting themselves, constructing their own printer drivers in the pre-Windows era, a theme that will surface again in this catalog.

I will also point out that, while the rest of the catalog is professionally typeset in a standard Helvetica font, this note appears to have been produced on a real typewriter -- there were no desktop laser printers in 1981, and you can see that Ms. Schor's "f" key apparently had a little gunk on it that cleared up as the letter progressed.

Next, we come to the table of contents, arranged in alphabetical order rather than by page number.  It was common in the early days of the home computer industry for a publisher to market both games and productivity software; as the market matured and software development standards and budgets rose, specialization naturally occurred.  But in 1981, the market was wide open, and Acorn was selling a variety of entertainment titles and useful tools:

Next time, we'll turn the page.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vectrex - The High Performance Machine

The exciting news in the early days of video games wasn't always about the games themselves.  Sometimes it was about the sheer technology envelope-pushing joy of new game hardware, devices that were the stuff of science fiction a decade earlier.   And the Vectrex, famously the only home console with a true vector-graphics monitor, was no slouch in the new hardware department.  This Vectrex magazine ad from the mid-1980s barely mentions the system's games, and certainly doesn't picture any of them.  In fact, it doesn't even call the Vectrex a game console -- in the company's marketing parlance, it's the Vectrex Graphic Computer System.

In a break from 80s gaming tradition, all of the products advertised here actually did come to market.  There wasn't much one could do with the light pen beyond playing around with several animation and music programs; these tools were sophisticated for the time, but with no ability to save work in progress, their usefulness was limited.  The 3-D Imager claimed to present images "in color," and in fact did so using a spinning color wheel and shuttered glasses to present a (rather flickery) three-color stereoscopic 3-D image, but again only a handful of games were released for use with this peripheral.

It's another case of interesting hardware and bad timing -- as the industry went into its first major crash, having the look, action and power that leaves the others in the dust only meant that your system might be the last to go into the discount bin or get shipped off to Goodwill in bulk.  The dust was mighty deep in those dark days.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Of Import: Human Sports Festival

There are good videogames, there are bad videogames, and there are a lot that fall somewhere in-between.  This week, we're playing one of those mediocre games from 1992 -- a Japanese PC Engine Super CD-ROM disc entitled Human Sports Festival (so called because it was published by Human Creative Group, not because it would otherwise have been Sea Slug Sports Festival.)

I was surprised to find that the three sports contests on this disc -- tennis, golf and soccer -- are all fairly polished.  But a little research establishes that Human had released similar games for the PC Engine, with relatively minor changes and updates to produce these "new" versions.  The Super CD-ROM format allows for some jazzy packaging, with very brief but still impressive black-and-white full-motion video in the opening sequence:

There are also fully-voiced, attractive anime hostesses for each game:

There's also a special Human Information section, which I can't read as I don't speak Japanese, but it appears to offer several screens of information about the company and its products, and encourages fan mail to the various game hostesses:

Though apparently we can't send fan mail to the information section's own mascot, Ms. Gratuitous Swimsuit Bunny Girl:

Human Creative Group also published Formation Soccer in 1990, and Formation Soccer '95 in 1995; this compilation disc includes a game called Formation Soccer '92, which seems very similar to the 1990 edition.  It's a competent little soccer game, with smooth animation and detailed sprites.  My only complaint here is that there's no way to select the player closest to the ball, and the computer seems to pick exactly the wrong player in almost any fielding situation, so that the person I want to use to take back control of the ball never seems to be available; in fact, sometimes the team member under player control is actually offscreen somewhere.  I soon met a humiliating defeat at the hands feet of Argentina:

There's also a half-time television announcer, who never fails to amuse, as he reuses one of the in-game digitized voice effects, exclaiming "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!" like a demented Arnold Horshack until we press a button to turn off the in-game TV set.

Human Creative Group also published Final Match Tennis on HuCard, so we get a reworked version here entitled Final Match Tennis Ladies, with an all-girl cast aside from the creepy men hunched over at the back of the court.  It's not a bad tennis game, though the sprites are tiny, and the unconvincing sound effects occasionally call the original Pong to mind.

The only game I can't find a direct predecessor for is Fine Shot Golf, a polished golf simulation marred only by the lack of visible directionality on the green.  There's a full club selection, a course featuring eighteen challenging holes, and with a little more graphical flair this game could have been a stand-alone release; one gets the impression that was the original plan, as it's the only game of the three that features CD music.  But as the final product lacks that certain something needed to put it over the top, a compilation augmenting this game with quickie variations of existing HuCard titles was hastily assembled instead.

Human Sports Festival is not a bad compilation, and with multiplayer support it probably provided a lot of good times and value for money back in the day.  But the three sports games included are thoroughly generic, and the state of the art has certainly moved on, so it's ultimately one for the historical shelf.

This inexpensively collectible disc offers quite a bit of decent, if unspectacular, gameplay for the buck.  You may be able to find a copy for purchase here or here:

Human Sports Festival PC-Engine SCD

Thursday, February 24, 2011

At Random: Time Lord (NES, 1990)

Milton Bradley never fully committed to the videogame market -- that is, they never developed a console of their own -- but they flirted with it on a couple of occasions, starting with a brief alliance with Texas Instruments in the early 1980s.  Later, the venerable game company launched a line of cartridges for Nintendo's 8-bit NES, and my latest blind selection has drawn one of them from the stack:  Time Lord.

Dig the metallic horizon effects.

The game was developed by the prolific UK developer Rare Ltd./Rare Coin-It, and opens with a futuristic sci-fi tune that sounds a lot like the Commodore 64 SID tracks in vogue at the time, with rapid alternation of tones and frequency sweeps to produce interesting sounds.  And while the concept is credited to Milton Bradley, the game feels very much like a British 8-bit home computer game -- there's a fair amount of action, but the gameplay is puzzle-oriented at heart.

As the Time Lord (no relation to Dr. Who, at least officially), we are sent into a number of different eras to fight an alien threat changing our planet's history.  We must collect 5 orbs on each level, but it's not just a matter of fighting our way through the levels against the constant onslaught of respawning enemies -- we have to figure out how to make the orbs in each world appear so they can be collected.  The first level is introductory, with the orbs just lying around for the taking.  But as we move on to Castle Harman in medieval times, we have to figure out just what the game wants us to do.  For example, here we have to pick a sufficient number of mushrooms to get an orb to surface:

I had a dream like this once.

Each orb must be found by completing a specific, unstated objective -- hopping on pillars, killing a particular enemy, or sometimes just waiting for a floating orb to drift within reach.  After we've collected four of them, we will face a boss to win the fifth orb and warp to the next level:

"Hey, buddy!  Wake up and kill me already!"

Fortunately, when our hero dies, we're able to continue immediately as long as we have another life available.  The serious pressure comes from the clock -- we have to finish the game before 3000 A.D. arrives, and as it's already January 1st of 2999 when we begin, and the days tick by relatively quickly, there's much to be done, and quickly.

We begin each new era with fists as our only weapon -- for some reason, the advanced technology that transports us from era to era in seconds is incapable of sending along, say, a laser pistol.  Maybe it's a paradox concern, maybe an eco-friendly ethical restriction, but in any case we must hunt up some local weaponry appropriate to the era if we hope to succeed.  The second level takes us to Dead Man's Gulch in the Wild West, circa 1860 A.D., where a couple of guns are available if we can find them -- but it's rough going early on, as only the bad guys are properly armed for ranged combat:

The Time Lord likes to can-can.

For some reason, the cowboys are colored either gray or blue, calling the American Civil War to mind.  But we've no time to dilly-dally over anachronistic detail; the levels are not large, but triggering each of the orbs takes quite a bit of trial and error, and running out of lives eventually becomes less of a concern than the passing days.  According to the manual, we will also visit the pirate-infested Caribbean to swash some buckles, World War II circa 1943 to fight the Nazis, and finally return to the present to take on the alien Drakkon King.  But I didn't get that far.

Time Lord is an interesting challenge, and I imagine it wouldn't take long to play through once all the orbs have been  discovered.  But that's no mean feat -- it's no wonder Milton Bradley advertised their own Game Counselor hotline on the back of the manual, and it's not even a 900 number.  Unfortunately, it's no longer in service two decades later, and even the mighty Game Genie's magic can offer little assistance for this style of gameplay.  So I finally had to drop out, mission unfulfilled.

Just didn't have the time.  Lord!

If you don't mind paying the shipping, you can probably pick up a copy of Time Lord real cheap-like:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Catching Up With Bob Liddil, aka Captain 80

I recently had the chance to speak with Bob "Captain 80" Liddil, founder of The Programmer's Guild, publisher of numerous adventure and arcade games for the TRS-80 computers back in the early 1980s.  He also wrote a popular magazine column, and edited the famous and influential Captain 80 Book of BASIC Adventures.  I had planned to ask him a few questions to clear up some historical details, but Mr. Liddil's fond memories of the era are sharp and detailed, and he graciously gave me more than an hour of his time.  I didn't record our wide-ranging conversation, so while I took lots of notes, little of this is directly quoted.

Bob Liddil moved from California to New Hampshire to work for Instant Software, at a time when the company was fielding submissions and proposals by authors including Scott Adams and Bill Gates.  Gates' BASIC-language, all-text flight simulator game was rejected in favor of a more sophisticated flight sim called Ball Turret Gunner by Sparky Starks, who later wrote a number of games for Adams' Adventure International.

Instant Software occupied a converted motel.  One of the suites was the TRS-80 lab, almost a ballroom.  An informal club called The Late Night Adventurers weren't authorized to be in there after midnight, so they kept light to a minimum with a single bare lightbulb and a computer screen running for their all-night gaming sessions.  Charter members of the Late Night Adventurers included Liddil, Kepner, "Reese" and "Shorty."

The Wayne Green organization (of which Instant Software was a part) had some money, but the hierarchical company culture didn't suit many of the creative people who came to work there, and there were several other computer software publishers and magazines operating in the New Hampshire area.  Roger Robitaille's SoftSide Publications was less than 30 miles away, so every time Wayne Green fired somebody, they showed up at SoftSide the next day.  Bob recalls that George Blank, author of the Hammurabi-style game Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio for Instant Software, was one who later migrated to SoftSide.

After joining the ranks of the Wayne Green Alumni Association for the usual reasons, Bob decided to found his own company, The Programmer's Guild, which acted as both a publisher and an agent for game programmers.  The company operated out of the top floor of a three-story apartment building.

Terry Kepner, who later published Portable 100 magazine and wrote the science fiction reference book Proximity Zero, was part of the original Instant Software team that Bob joined around September of 1980.  Using the pseudonym Teri Li to avoid contractual conflicts elsewhere, Kepner wrote The Programmer's Guild's first product, the Lost Dutchman's Gold adventure (copyright 1979).  He also wrote the company's second release, Spider Mountain Adventure.  Bob Liddil took Lost Dutchman's Gold on the road to Boston-area computer dealers, and was happy with initial sales, returning home with orders for three more titles.

Charles Forsythe, a schoolboy in Boston at the time, became the company's programming mainstay for years, creating many of its biggest hits beginning with Dragon-Quest Adventure and leading to arcade games like Ninja Warriors and Pac-Droids, published before he started at MIT.

A notorious early release was Death Dreadnaught, a sci-fi adventure with more than the usual quota of gore splattered about the derelict alien ship.  80 Microcomputing magazine would not accept The Programmer's Guild ad for the game as originally submitted, until Bob amended it to label the game with an MPAA-inspired R rating; this may have been the first-ever rated game, preceding the Atari 2600 X-rated games by a few years.  Death Dreadnaught was written by anonymous authors based in Texas, known informally as the Dog Brothers; the game was credited to Biff Mutt and Spud Mutt, and royalty checks were endorsed the same way.

There were "adventure wars" at the time, generally based on a friendly spirit of competition.  Scott Adams was doing multiplatform releases in machine code, while The Programmer's Guild was doing games in BASIC and encouraging users to learn how the code worked.  After the Captain 80 Book of BASIC Adventures was published, there was a flood of new adventure games on the market.  Bob Liddil is credited with popularizing the term Interactive Fiction in a 1980 article for Byte magazine -- I can believe that, as the earliest use of it I've personally seen dates from around the same time in an Adventure International catalog.

Another familiar name in adventure gaming that came up in our conversation is that of Greg Hassett -- Bob told me he got his start as a very young SoftSide adventure game author.  Hassett's games were published through Mad Hatter Software, operated by a Tim... somebody..., who was a character and always wore a top hat.  (I had thought that Mad Hatter was Hassett's own company, as it appears to have changed company names over the years while retaining the same address and continuing to publish Hassett's games, but this information clarifies the situation.)

As an agency, The Programmer's Guild represented famous TRS-80 graphics whiz Leo Christopherson, and in fact pre-sold a version of his Snake Eggs for the Apple II -- but the publisher went bankrupt 45 hours after cashing the check, so it never saw release.

There was a second Bob Liddil BASIC adventure book called Castles & Kingdoms, sold as a new as-yet-unwritten book to Virgin enterpreneur Richard Branson in 1982 or 1983 and targeted to the Commodore 64, a more popular machine in Britain.  The book was published in the UK, and physically bootlegged in Eastern Europe; the same happened with the Captain 80 book.

The Tano company produced an American version of the British Dragon 32/64 machine, a close cousin of the TRS-80 Color Computer, and licensed adventure programs from The Programmer's Guild to be published bundled with the machine.

There was also a Programmer's Guild UK company, run by Graham Haywood, a typographer for the Wakefield Express, and a pharmacist partner named Alan Wock.  Around 1982, Haywood invited Bob to come to England to discuss licensing; they became good friends, and contracted to form Programmer's Guild UK, with an advance against royalties.  The operation ran smoothly for 6 months, then became unstable; as Haywood actually held the licenses, not the partnership, Bob flew back over and relicensed the titles exclusively to Graham Haywood's Programmer's Guild UK.  After some further controversy PG UK was sold to another computer game company in Lancashire.  Graham Haywood died in 1994 as an illegal immigrant in the US, so classified only because he was very embedded in the printing trade and never bothered to get a green card.  He had lived in Peterboro, New Hampshire for the rest of his life.

Bob Liddil was not a coder; he calls himself a hustler and a huckster, but today we call that marketing.

Alex Kreis wrote Domes of Kilgari; Bob came up with the name, Alex did all the design and coding.  The game was not originally intended as a sequel, but Death Dreadnaught was very popular due to... the color of the documentation?  It tied in with Liddil's Rider Fantasy Creations, a kitchen-table publisher of unofficial Dungeons & Dragons materials, and a similar packaging approach was taken with the early Programmer's Guild games.  There was a lot of crossover between the sci-fi community and early computer and adventure gamers.

The Programmer's Guild's third adventure game was Temple of the Sun, missing from a lot of online lists of the company's games.

Gauntlet of Death was more of a Rogue-like game than an adventure, but was maddening to play -- it was an action/reaction text versus graphics game, and if you touched the wrong thing you were dead.  It was inspired by Flying Buffalo's Tunnels & Trolls book Grimtooth's Traps.  At this time legal arrangements were often handshake deals, with no formal contracts, and Bob inadvertently owned the Flying Buffalo character Grimtooth at one time, accidentally, due to a paperwork mixup in conjunction with another deal.

What killed The Programmer's Guild?  BBS's (dial-up bulletin board systems with file upload/download capabilities) and piracy were killing the whole industry at the time, and Bob Liddil and a prominent pirate nearly came to blows at a computer show at one point.  There was also an unexpectedly rapid move toward more sophisticated software as the home computer market matured, requiring more substantial investment in new titles to keep up with market expectations, and greater risk.  But it was an exciting time to be getting a company off the ground, and even now Bob is amazed at what his authors were able to achieve in a mere 16K of memory.

Thanks very much to Bob "Captain 80" Liddil for sharing so many memories; he's cleared up a lot of things I had always wondered about, and provided some new leads for further investigation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Alaskan Adventure (1982)

This week, we're playing through another of the monthly adventures from SoftSide Publications' disk magazine -- from 1982, it's SoftSide Adventure #19: Alaskan Adventure.

Plotwise, it's a standard treasure hunt adventure -- we have to find a parka to stay warm, then find and reclaim a hefty fifteen treasures from the snowy Alaskan wilderness.  It's a challenging adventure for all the wrong reasons -- the puzzles are straightforward once they're discovered, but many important items are hidden, some appear randomly, and the map is highly maze-oriented and designed to confuse, with identical-looking rooms that are actually different locations.  I had to dig into the BASIC code on numerous occasions to find everything and solve the game; otherwise, the story is simple, and the puzzles aren't particularly difficult once the necessary elements are tracked down.

As always, I suggest that interested readers embark upon the Alaskan Adventure before proceeding here.  In the interest of historical documentation, and perhaps saving others the hair-tearing aspects of actually playing this game, there will be copious and thorough...

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

The game opens with Scott Adams-style introduction screens explaining the basic concept; Adams' basic "I will be your puppet" opening inspired many of his contemporaries to include similar text.  The two-word parser is similar to other SoftSide adventures, though it has a few quirks of its own.  The I(nventory) command, when we have nothing in hand, just stops dead after printing out "You are carrying:"

Oddly for a treasure hunt set in Alaska, we can't readily DIG SNOW -- the parser initially yields "Too cold / B-R-R-R-R."  After we visit the trading post and obtain a shovel, it becomes clear that even now we can't actually DIG SNOW, but LOOK SNOW is sufficient to discover anything hidden in it.  We can't discover this until we have the shovel, though, so it's a bit of a Catch-22.

Our initial concern is staying warm  -- too many turns (more than 60) in the frozen landscape kills us off instantly.  But there's no parka available in the first section of the game -- we have to round up a sled dog team of 6 Eskimo Huskies to get anywhere.  These animals turn up randomly around the map, one at a time -- when the first ESKIMO HUSKIE shows up, we can GET HUSKIE, and now we have 1 ESKIMO HUSKIES, which is useful if grammatically awkward.  We can't DROP HUSKIE, as Dogs kling on to you (are these tribble crossbreeds?), so we just keep accumulating them until they become a full team.  Then we can DROP HUSKIES near the Sled to turn it into a DOG SLED.  Unfortunately, due to the random element involved, we can easily freeze to death before we pull a complete team together, so it's a good thing this risky and unpredictable sequence happens early in the game.

The LOOK verb appears to be non-specific; actually, it falls through to a room-level inspection if there's nothing notable about the specified object.  I thought for a while that we had to LOOK HUSKIE repeatedly to discover a *MAGIC IDOL, but it's actually location-based -- a simple LOOK in the right spot finds it.  And we can't just GET IDOL once we've found it -- Magic idol says, "find me a container"  -- so this actually ends up being the last treasure we acquire.

Once we have gathered the dogs, we can GO SLED, then MUSH (as mentioned at the start of the game) to set off across the frozen tundra.

There's a parka in an igloo found to the north after this first dog sled ride, along with a matchbook containing 4 matches, and a FROZEN ESKIMO.  We can pick up some twigs nearby and burn them in the igloo to thaw the Eskimo, who gives us a *RARE COIN.  What I missed on my first pass is that there's actually a second igloo to the south -- I thought I was wrapping around to the first one I found -- and an alarm clock hidden near the sled.  We can use the clock to wake the SLEEPING ESKIMO residing in this second igloo -- twice! -- to steal his *PEARL, *GOLDEN STATUE, and pillow.

The map is fairly tight, with just a few rooms in each segment of the game, but each section is also rather mazelike, with inconsistent directions and lots of wraparounds.  Each area's puzzles are largely self-contained, with only a few items that must be carried from one area to another.

Several puzzles center around keeping the sled dogs healthy -- they get very thirsty after a few runs, then hungry, then sick.

To water the dogs, we visit an Eskimo lodge, where the Eskimos are having dinner and exclaiming, rather incongruously, "This salad tastes terrible."   We can take the hint and bring them the ESKIMO DRESSING from an adjacent room, take the empty bottle after they're done with it, and then GET SNOW at the sled's location (we can't do this elsewhere, for some reason.)  We also find a WEDDING RING in the process, though it's not a treasure.  We can HEAT BOTTLE over the lodge's roaring fire, get a dish from the lodge's kitchen, and POUR WATER to satisfy our trusty canine companions for the moment.

After another MUSH, though, the dogs are hungry and won't move again until we feed them.  We find a can opener on a nearby mountaintop (after we CLIMB MOUNTAIN, GO MOUNTAIN does not work).  A quick LOOK MOUNTAIN also reveals a cave with a locked door; BURN DOOR is interpreted as BURN MATCH by the parser, and doesn't help.  But there's a SNOWBANK nearby, which we must refer to as a BANK; we can DIG BANK with the shovel to find another igloo with a key (hidden, sadly, on a DEAD ESKIMO) and a tin can of Alpo (another vintage bit of unofficial product placement.)

At the next stop, we encounter a Polar Bear, who is not particularly dangerous, but we still need to find the speargun (GET GUN, not GET SPEARGUN) and shoot the poor creature to trade its fur for the *GOLD KNIFE.  We can also give the wedding ring to a crying ESKIMO BRIDE, receiving an *ALASKAN RUBY as a reward.  Some sticky shoes found to the east allow us to CLIMB IGLOO to find the speargun.

The dogs seem content for the moment, but at the next stop, they are sick. There's an ESKIMO VET in an igloo, but she needs her black bag before she will help us.  She also has a radio playing music; it's too large to carry (It's a console) but if we answer the phone in the igloo next door, we have the opportunity to win a prize by naming the radio station that's playing.  We have to return to the vet's office to learn that we need to SAY KOOL to win the *GOLDEN RECORD, delivered by an incredibly efficient mail carrier.  The vet's bag is hard to find -- it's actually well-hidden underneath our sick sled team, and we have to MOVE DOG to find it.

At the next step of our journey, we find a lake containing a dead whale (aren't they saltwater creatures?) and can GET OIL from its body.  There's a TIRED ESKIMO wandering around here, wearing a *GOLD NECKLACE; giving him the pillow liberated earlier allows us to snag the treasure.  We can also climb a totem pole to GET (and accidentally drop) an OPAL from a gargoyle's eye socket, then climb back down to find it in the snow below.  Inside the lower section of the totem pole is a treasure chest containing a *SAPPHIRE; there's also a box nearby, handy for snagging the *MAGIC IDOL after we return home.

Next stop:  A NAKED FEMALE ESKIMO chases us out of her igloo; we get a brief glimpse of a *GOLD VASE in the room, but no details on the nudity, so we know where our priorities are.  She is not guarding it, really; she's just modest, so if we CLOSE EYES we can go in, retrieve it, and OPEN EYES (if we're still inside, she chases us out again.)  There's a HUNGRY ESKIMO in an igloo to the south of the sled, another disguised/hidden location; we can SHOOT a low-flying SEAGULL and trade it for a *SILVER FORK here.  Next we encounter a POOR OLD ESKIMO with his kayak by the river; we must give him one of our treasures to rent the kayak, but it can be reclaimed later in the naked Eskimo's igloo (implying a degree of illicit commerce in the area.)  There's a MAD ESKIMO in an igloo on the other side of the river, but he's not insane, just unhappy with his unlit pipe. We can DROP MATCHBOOK to get a *BAR OF SILVER from this desperate smoker.

Another round of MUSHing the dogs, and we find ourselves back at the game's starting location.  On my first time around the map, I only found 7 of the 15 treasures, but they can all be rounded up in a single trip.  Fortunately, the game's inventory limit is not tight -- there's no treasure storage location in this game, so we have to carry them all with us.

I did find one parser/dictionary bug -- some confusion arises between the CAN OPENER and the OPEN CAN, and somehow I ended up with duplicate CAN items in my inventory.

As soon as we pick up the fifteenth treasure, it's time to celebrate!  Or it should be, at least; the game is rather unenthusiastic about the whole thing:

I had fun solving the Alaskan Adventure, but I don't think I could have finished it without looking at the source code, so I had to treat it as a meta-adventure, with lots of notes on room and item numbers decorating my map by the time I got through.  I've provided my walkthrough below the fold, and it's also available at the CASA Solution Archive.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Vote to help Curate the Smithsonian's Video Game Art Exhibit!

This is very cool -- the Smithsonian American Art Museum is planning a proper exhibit of video game art; judging from the website, it will at the least include some beautiful concept paintings from more recent games, and plans to cover five generations of video game technology and visuals.

Better yet, they're soliciting input from gamers from February 14 through April 17, 2011 -- you can vote for 80 games out of a pool of 240 worthy nominees.  The voting site requires registration, to minimize stuffing of the ballet boxes, so let's all be honest and keep this dignified.

I wish there was more interactivity planned -- the exhibit will feature only five significant games as live, playable examples -- because in my opinion that's where the true art of gaming lies.  But this is a conventional art museum, and a well-respected one, so the exhibit's focus on the visual aesthetics of gaming is completely appropriate.

Visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Exhibitions: The Art of Video Games site to learn more about the exhibit, and visit the voting site to express your opinion.

The LoadDown - 02/21/2011

It's Presidents' Day in the US -- what's down?

WiiWare -- Two new titles and two free demos.  Cozy Fire is a simulated fireplace display running on the Wii, not a bad idea here in the snowstorm-struck Midwest this morning.  Jewel Keepers: Easter Island is another match-N puzzle game.  There are also demo versions of the first-person fighter Rage of the Gladiator and early-education game Learning with the PooYoos: Episode 1.

Wii Virtual Console -- Another intriguing choice - Falcom's Faxanadu for the 8-bit NES, a side-scrolling RPG arriving courtesy of Hudson Entertainment.

DSiWare -- Three new titles, two of which are racing games.  G.G. Series DRIFT CIRCUIT is a more realistic take on the genre, Remote Racers takes the Micro Machines route.  Arctic Escape is a Lemmings-style puzzle game featuring penguins.

XBox Live Arcade -- One new game arrived last week: Konami's Hard Corps Uprising is a side-scrolling two-player cooperative shooter with elements of Contra and other classic Konami action series.

Game Room -- Going twice... the monitors are flickering and the unsightly cigarette burns are accumulating on the cabinets.

PS3 on PSN -- Two new games arrived last week.  Acceleration of Suguri X Edition is a 2-D shoot-'em-up combining cute heroines with frenetic bullet-hell action.  And Telltale Games' well-received new episodic adventure series, Back to the Future: The Game, arrives on the PS3.

PSOne Classics -- An unusual PSX release this round -- Destrega, a 3-D fighting game with rock/paper/scissors elements, produced by the masters of strategy at Koei.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Mountain of Q*Bert Merchandise

I've always been fond of Gottlieb's classic arcade game, Q*Bert.  But I had forgotten how much effort was invested in trying to launch the little orange hosenose into the Pac-Man category back in the day.

This article from the November 1983 issue of Electronic Games magazine shows off a whole bunch of now-forgotten official Q*Bert merchandise (click to enlarge):

Pencil toppers, vinyl Kenner miniatures, console and tabletop and board game versions, plush toys, wind-ups, tote bags... there was a lot of licensed product in stores for Christmas 1983.  But Q*Bert was always more of a hardcore game -- the difficulty ramped up quickly, and while the character design was cute enough, his tendency toward unintelligible cartoon profanity made him slightly risque at the time.  While the character survived well into the 1990s with versions for the NES and the Playstation, he was never quite as accessible as Namco's friendly, hungry little yellow guy.

Still, I'd love to have one of those plushies.  @!#?@! indeed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sierra Rips Off Q*Bert

Last summer's kerfuffle over the fan-produced King's Quest sequel The Silver Lining was fortunately resolved without legal bloodshed when Activision (current owner of the Sierra intellectual properties) consented to allow its release, after an outpouring of support from fans including Roberta Williams herself. 

UPDATE 02/20/2011:  Of course, now we know why Activision was being all protective, as the episodic adventure publisher Telltale Games has announced an upcoming official King's Quest revival.

If Sierra On-Line were still in business, it might have been easier to resolve the whole matter by bringing up Mr. Cool:

One imagines the gaming community rallying to champion a lovingly produced, non-profit fan effort against a company that once kept its balance sheet healthy with a quickie Q*Bert rip-off (not to mention the Donkey Kong-"inspired" Cannonball Blitz.)

But fortunately it all worked out.  As John Lennon once sang, instant karma gonna get you.

Telltale Games - The Adventures Continue!

The good folks at Telltale Games, who have almost single-handedly revived the adventure genre with a series of successful episodic releases, most recently Back to the Future: The Game, have announced a bunch of new and very interesting licenses.

They'll be doing adventure games based on two very successful graphic novel series -- The Walking Dead, with the full participation of creator Robert Kirkman, and the DC Comics/Vertigo updated-fairy-tale series Fables created by Bill Willingham.

And here's one I didn't expect -- they're doing a new King's Quest game.  I look forward to seeing Roberta Williams' venerable Kingdom of Daventry enlivened by the Telltale approach to story and humor.  (I've recently been playing King's Quest VII, which feels like a Lucasarts game in many respects, so I'm pretty sure it can work.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

East vs. West: Cyber Core

Once in a while, NEC deviated from its usual "strategy" for marketing the Turbografx-16 console in the US, and actually brought over a genuinely decent game from the Japanese PC Engine.  One such title was Cyber Core, an insect-themed shoot-'em-up released in 1990 on the HuCard cartridge format by IGS in Japan, and by NEC in the States.  (The Japanese packaging also prominently features a company called Game Princess, which I am guessing is the game's developer, but thanks to Disney Interactive and Mario, it's hard to Google "Game Princess" and find anything definitive to confirm this.)

There were a few interesting differences between the Eastern and Western versions.  Here's the American title screen:

In Japan, there's an extra intro screen with its own little stereo musical fanfare, mysteriously cut from the US edition, probably because IGS retained its copyright but was less prominently featured:

Followed by a very similar title screen:

The introductory text has also been revised -- the Japanese version is rendered in charmingly odd English, while the US version manages to be more correct, yet epically lame.  This first bit of information, which would seem to be critical to the plot, is missing from the US version altogether:

The remaining bits of introductory text are more consistent, but I prefer the sincere awkwardness of the Japanese version (on the left):

Rad Ralph?  Seriously?  The guy is some kind of human/insect hybrid with an incredibly advanced fighter at his disposal, and the most impressive moniker they can come up with is Rad Ralph?

Anyway, once we're past the altered introductory material, Cyber Core is the same game in both territories.  It's a vertically-scrolling shooter with obvious debts to Dragon Spirit and Galaga -- we fly up the screen, shooting at aerial insectoid enemies and bombing ground-based foes, avoiding fire and picking up cumulative powerups in one of four colors.  The playfield extends beyond the screen on both sides, so we have to maneuver left and right if we want to maximize our score by hitting most of the available targets.  We have to dislodge the powerups from large green insects that occasionally fly past, and acquiring two or three in a row of the same color significantly upgrades our firepower (but also makes our ship larger and easier to hit):

Each level's midway point features a largeish sub-boss that flies around, firing at us while we try to get enough shots in to take it down:

Then we encounter a ground-based final boss that must be bombed while we dodge its fire (some levels reverse these conventions, so the sub-boss is ground-based while the true boss is airborne):

When we defeat a level's final boss, we are given an encouraging GOODPLAY in the Japanese version,  rendered slightly differently as GOOD PLAY in the American edition.

The Japanese PC Engine was graced with a large number of quality shooters, and TurboGrafx-16 users occasionally benefited as well.  Cyber Core's level designs occasionally suffer from a predictable symmetry, where the arrival of enemies on the left foreshadows the immediate arrival of similar enemies moving in a similar pattern on the right.  And as the game is HuCard-based, storage limitations force repetition of sprites and background graphics.  But Cyber Core is a challenging little shooter, with solid music and percussion effects and some very nicely-detailed graphics, and I'm glad NEC opted to bring this one out over here.

Now, Get Metamorphosis!

The Japanese version is generally similar in cost to the American version, but less portable as the HuCard format was not cross-compatible across regions.  Interested readers may be able to find a copy at one of these friendly retailers:

Cyber Core PC-Engine Hu

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ultra Review Roundtable: Blaster Master (NES)

Ed.: The Ultra Review Roundtable returns, with coverage of Sunsoft's classic NES game Blaster Master.


Blaster Master begins with Jason Frudnick who has a pet frog named Fred. While Jason is feeding him, Fred escapes as the Earth gets hit with a series of natural disasters. Fred hops into a radioactive chest, grows to a gigantic size, and disappears down a hole as it opens up from an earthquake. Jason follows Fred down the hole and is greeted by a woman named Eve who is from a far away planet. A group of aliens called the Lightning Beings have destroyed her planet and are led by the Plutonium Boss. She escaped in a combat machine called SOPHIA the 3rd but could not combat the aliens by herself.

The Plutonium Boss is now at the center of the Earth and Lightning Beings must be stopped as they are slowly destroying the planet from the inside. Jason enters SOPHIA the 3rd and puts on a suit of armor found inside. Together with Eve, Jason must stop the Lightning Beings and the Plutonium Boss in order to prevent the destruction of the world. This is a much deeper story than just about chasing his pet frog!


Blaster Master is a blend of accurate platforming, exploration, and run ‘n gun tactics. Levels allow you to backtrack whenever you want and you are only allowed to progress as far as your current abilities will let you. As you beat bosses you are rewarded new upgrades to your vehicle that will let you do a variety of things such as have a more powerful shot, hover, and stick to walls. There are also weapon upgrades for both your vehicle and for Jason that can be found along your journey which will come in handy when you find yourself in a jam.

As you drive around in SOPHIA the Third, you can exit at any time. As you would expect, you won’t last too long against the mutants outside your vehicle, but there are portions of the game that you must exit in order to progress. Once you enter a cave style level, you then get a zoomed in view of Jason and you traverse the depths of the cave Zelda-style to either get weapon upgrades or fight a boss.

Graphics and Sound

Blaster Master has some very distinct graphics that set a high standard for games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Overall, the game has a very dark tone to it, but the backgrounds convey this tone while maintaining a detailed look throughout. Each level has a distinct theme that comes across well as you traverse the areas. The enemy designs lack a bit of color but there is a lot of variety between enemy types so it never gets stale. The character sprites for both Jason and SOPHIA are distinctive and memorable. The bosses are gigantic and have a presence about them that will get your adrenaline pumping. Slowdown does happen, but it’s barely noticeable and can be used as strategy during an intense battle.

The music and sound in Blaster Master is legendary! There are so many catchy tunes and you will want to backtrack to previous levels just to hear some of the themes again. The sound effects go above and beyond making things like the lightning weaponry sound truly awesome. Little things like the boss explosions and jingle for when you pick up an upgrade for SOPHIA are very unique and help give Blaster Master a different feel than other games.

“A pleasant surprise amidst the standard ho-hum fair of terrible licensed games
and overdone platformers.” -

“Thank goodness you have an energy meter that can take multiple hits, because
regardless on how you play you are going to get hit.” -

“Still holds up well after all these years and the use of abilities to traverse to new
areas is an amazing feature.” -

“Was one of those second-wave NES games that made it obvious we had moved
into a new era for video gaming.” -

Published and Developed by: Sunsoft
Released: June 1988
Platform: NES
Genre: Platformer, Run and Gun
Perspective: Side-Scrolling, Overhead


 Sushi-Xpired from

Favorite Consoles: PC Engine, Atari 2600, Playstation, XBox 360
Least Favorite Consoles: Odyssey^2, Action Max

Everybody loves Stevie Wonder. Why, when Master Blaster first hit the airwaves back in 1980, it really WAS hotter than July. I remember standing in line at old Mr. McGimpy's record store with a wad of melted vinyl in my hands, just hoping to be allowed to buy it with the sock full of pennies I had earned peddling stolen newspapers.  No, wait, that was ice cream. Why was I trying to buy ice cream at the record store? I don't remember. Wait, what? Blaster Master? No, no, no. My memory is just fine. You know as well as I do that it's called masturb... what were we talking about?

Blaster Master was one of those second-wave NES games that made it obvious we had moved into a new era for video gaming. Early NES games looked and sounded a lot like the Colecovision, but by 1988 expanded cartridge capacity and a more sophisticated approach to design were making the old consoles and the quick-play arcade sensibility obsolete. This was a massive game in its day, and the powerups acquired along the way kept offering new opportunities for exploration long before Metroidvania was a recognized genre.

Remember, kids -- keep your pet frog AWAY from the Radioactive Waste!

The music of Blaster Master rocks, the sprites are small but lovingly detailed and animated, and the switch between vehicle and pilot mode makes for plenty of variety.  Most of all, the fine-tuned control and palpable weight of the player's vehicle make this a pleasure to play through even today -- you never feel like you've inadvertently rolled into danger. The story doesn't make much sense, but the game's only serious flaw is that there's no password system -- when I set out to finish the game with a college buddy, we had to leave the NES on all day, but we pulled it off.  I've sampled the Genesis sequel, and played through the 3-D PSX update. The NES original remains the go-to Blaster
Master game in my collection.

5 SOPHIA the Thirds out of 5

 Mr.Armitage from

Favorite Consoles: Sega Saturn, SNES, Wonderswan Crystal
Least Favorite Consoles: Amiga CD32, N-Gage, Xbox

Blaster Master is one of many NES games I never played as a kid. So this is a first time play for me. I'm not too sure about the bolt on story at the start of the game. It feels like they had this game and needed something of a front story and just added on a couple of screen shots from a different game, and it feels totally out of place. I looked up the Japanese version and it contains nothing about this Frog crap. It is just about invading aliens which makes much more sense.  The music is good, actually really good for a NES game. Probably the best I have ever heard.  Blaster Master has some nice up beat tunes to go with platform shooting too. The controls are fairly good. It kind of feels a little like Metroid but with happier music and in a tank. Hell, it even has Metroid’s enemies all about the place.

I like how you can not only use your tank, but also get out and move as a smaller human allowing you to get to places your heavily armored tank can't get too. The action goes from side scrolling to top down in many sections when you leave the confines of the tank where you will do battle with bosses that fill the entire screen. As you progress you get upgrades in weapons and to your tank allowing you to get to areas you might not have been able to get to before you received the upgrade.

Blaster Master is quite hard. Thank goodness you have an energy meter that can take multiple hits, because regardless on how you play you are going to get hit. Getting health replenishment for your energy is not too hard as you can get some by simply killing enemies. The bad part of this game is there is really no clear path. It needs a map, direction to object, frog finder or something. Took me about 45 minutes of aimless wandering about to get to the first boss. I had no clue where I was going or why I was going there. You have to back track to hell and back to complete some levels. I felt lost in most levels and it was frustrating me which made me not want to play the game. This is a shame as the game play in Blaster Master is very good. Mind you I did end up playing for about 4 hours before giving up.

Also being a hard, larger game it only gives you 3 lives and 4 continues. There is no password, no level skips, no battery backup. Nice to see that when you are dead, you have to start all over again. This is what makes Blaster Master as hard as it is. I watched speed runs of this game done in under an Hour, but realistically this first time player managed to complete about a level an hour. Blaster Master could fill up your entire weekend provided you don't cheat or watch YouTube videos on how to complete it.

4 SOPHIA the Thirds out of 5

HagenDragmire from

Favorite Consoles: NES, SNES, PC Engine Duo R
Least Favorite Consoles: Jaguar, Intellivision

Blaster Master is a game that I’ve owned since I was a kid. I remember playing it day after day making little progress. The first boss would take me, what seemed like, hours to beat until I figured out that grenades killed it faster. The furthest that I ever got as a kid was level 6’s boss the ice crab. For some reason I could never get down the timing perfectly and I would die.

The Frozen Crabulous aka the Bane of my Existence

Playing Blaster Master again years later brings back some great memories. Playing through this time around wasn’t too difficult. The crab boss in level 5 was a pain in the ass, but the pattern is pretty simple. Then there is that bastard ice crab boss! I died over and over again on that f#$!er and just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, until I realized how to avoid those damn claws. The remaining levels, Hell and something that looks like the final level of Contra were a new experience for me. The remaining bosses were a bit of a joke! The fire frog was about the same as the original with added fire effects. The 2 end bosses you barely have to move to beat, with the final boss being unable to hit you if you hug the right wall and use grenades.

Blaster Master still holds up well after all these years and the use of abilities to traverse to new areas is an amazing feature. The back tracking was a bit annoying, but overall it isn’t overly terrible. I don’t like the progression of boss difficulty as the final 2 bosses were some of the easiest that I have played in a game. It’s kind of a downer as the rest of the game is an amazing and balanced experience. Despite this little gripe, everyone who enjoys platformers with a little bit of Metroid style exploration added in should give Blaster Master a whirl.

4 SOPHIA the Thirds out of 5

NintendoLegend from

Favorite Consoles: NES, PS1, SNES
Least Favorite Consoles: Atari 7800, PS3

Sunsoft as a developer of NES video games was hit-or-miss for me, but I would name Blaster Master as their gem. Blaster Master is a unique adventure with a distinctively appealing plot, open-exploration feel similar to Metroid or Legend of Zelda, hybrid gameplay between topdown and side-scrolling portions, and an amount of challenge that could be intimidating to new or unfamiliar gamers but would satisfy most who bothered to give it an honest chance. There is a lot that could be said for Blaster Master, but I will leave my part as this: Among all the bigbox, name-brand, first-party, mass-produced blockbuster hits that the Nintendo Entertainment System had to offer, Blaster Master is a pleasant surprise amidst the standard ho-hum fair of terrible licensed games and overdone platformers. With its uniqueness preserved as a worthwhile quest even today, I give this one a four.

4 SOPHIA the Thirds out of 5

Ultra Review Roundtable
Overall Rating

4 SOPHIA the Thirds out of 5

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Elsewhere: Odyssey^2 The Voice TV Commercial

Judging by its rarity today, this ad for Magnavox's The Voice voice synthesizer accessory for the Odyssey^2 didn't do much to convince people it was a must-have.  But the ad is still entertaining, though the character actor playing the Wizard of Odyssey really needs subtitles:

His more garbled phrasings are meant to be, as near as I can make out, ... warning me of the dreaded Dratapillar! and Got you, Dratapillar!  But I think he says both as Dratapilla, urban-style.

I also note that of the four game boxes briefly pictured at the end of the ad, only K.C.'s Krazy Chase is named -- most of the other titles compatible with The Voice were educational titles like Nimble Numbers Ned, not likely to inspire a lot of birthday and Christmas requests.  And while K.C.'s Krazy Chase was probably the best reason to buy The Voice, it was not in fact required, and didn't really add much to the game.

Nor did K.C.'s Krazy Chase add much to Magnavox/Philips' bottom line at this point, as it was being given away free to help move consoles.

Heh-heh-heh.  Incredible!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Wet T-Shirt Contest!

Sometimes our dedication to historical documentation requires a side trip down a sleazy alley.  An enterprising and affable gentleman calling himself "Dirty" Bob Krotts founded Softcore Software in Kettering, Ohio, back in the early 1980s, and produced a seven-game series of "adult" text adventures known as the Misadventures.  We've previously looked at the first game in the series; this week, we're looking at the second entry -- Misadventure #2: Wet T-Shirt Contest!, published in 1982 for the TRS-80 Model I.

Mr. Krotts has actually remained active in the adult entertainment industry, and also runs a photography studio in the Dayton area.  I had a very pleasant phone conversation with him a few months back about the game software business of the early 80s, when a new game could be put together in a few weeks and might sell well for a month or two before widespread piracy killed its market.

Misadventure #2 isn't hard to finish -- the handful of puzzles are simple, there aren't many actions or objects to worry about, and most of the challenge comes from mapping out the convoluted city streets.  Interested readers are encouraged, as always, to tackle this game before proceeding here.  Because, along with a walkthrough at the end (also available at the CASA Solution Archive), I'm going to be giving everyone...

***** THE NAKED TRUTH (i.e., SPOILERS!!!) *****

Just to be clear, there's nothing truly X-rated on offer here.  Similar to the Leisure Suit Larry games that would follow a few years later, these early "adult" games tend to be naughty and (at least ostensibly) funny.  The tongue-in-cheek adult subject matter isn't suitable for kids, obviously, but this opening sequence is about as adult as the language gets:

So we start in a hotel room, are accosted by thugs after answering the door (we can't really do anything else in the room), and learn that our posterior is low-lying vegetation if we don't come up with a hundred bucks for The Boss by tomorrow.  I've certainly played adventure games motivated by less.

Krotts' parser improved over the run of the series, but is still on the primitive side here -- it's very fond of saying TRY SOMETHING ELSE... and WRONG - TRY SOMETHING ELSE!!!, neither of which is generally helpful.  For the most part, our possible actions are limited -- we only have to maneuver in the four compass directions, CLIMB stairs on occasion, PUSH a few buttons and use a few special-situation verbs.  Most other attempts to learn about our environment get us nowhere.  And there's no INVENTORY command, so we'd better remember what we're carrying.

The map is sparse -- there's generally only one item of value in any room, and most rooms are empty with minimal descriptions.  Once we leave the hotel room at the beginning of the game, we can't return there, but there's nothing in the room we need to take or make use of.  Outside the room, at the south end of a hall, we find a smelly pile of trash, but I found no good reason to disturb it (nor any way to do so) so it seems to be present for olfactory atmosphere.

Wet T-Shirt Contest's only serious challenge is that it's fairly difficult to map -- there are many, many nondescript street "rooms," few landmarks, and wraparounds in unexpected places.  I started three or four different maps before getting my bearings -- using graph paper dungeon-crawl style didn't quite work, as the passages aren't really laid out in a grid, but with patience I managed to explore all the possibilities and find the handful of important locations.

The Boom-Boom Club is just outside the hotel where we start the game, but it remains closed until we figure out what to do concerning the Wet T-Shirt Contest! that starts at midnight.  Clearly, we need to raise some money, but as our character seems to be male we don't really have the right accessories to enter the contest.  (Or if we do, nobody really wants to see them.)  We can go to the bank and try to GET LOAN, but THE TELLER LAUGHS! THE BANK GUARD ESCORTS YOU OUT OF THE BANK!  So we need to do a little exploring.

Dead ends are invariably described as THE ROAD DEAD ENDS HERE. . .BEWARE OF MUGGERS AND WHORES!!!, which seems like reasonable advice, but we never encounter any meaningful threats from said denizens of the netherworld.  Entering the IRS building sends us through an audit, and thence to jail for tax fraud, ending the game, so it's best to avoid these particular authorities.

This game came out in 1982, and one wonders if the author predicted that in 2010 we'd still be able to relate to the arcade and its resident, completely unlicensed Pac-Man machine.  Initially, PLAY GAME yields YOU HAVE NO MONEY.  But we can find a coin a few blocks up the street, which buys us a rather amazing play session - a crowd gathers to watch, we set the high score, and instead of hitting the infamous "kill screen," the machine actually catches fire, leaving a burned video monitor on the floor of the arcade.  We should GET SCREEN before stepping outside, as if we leave the arcade and come back, the Pac-Man cab is miraculously restored to its original condition.

The next important area is a flight of stairs not far from the bank.  CLIMB STAIRS takes us to the lobby of the K&K Corporation, which in the real world appears to link up with Krotts' K&K Photo.  There's an elevator door here -- we can PUSH BUTTON to enter the elevator.

Inside the elevator, we find buttons numbered 1-21, which present the game's core puzzle.  It's one of those "you must try darn near everything" puzzles, so I will spoil its most annoying features by revealing that many of the buttons are instantly fatal, with no way to predict their effects.  Most commonly (floors 2, 6, 8, 12, 17, 19 and 20)  YOU ARE ELECTROCUTED INSTANTLY!; on floors 5, 10, 18, we are attacked by ten Dobermans and ripped to shreds.  Floors 4, 14, 15 and 21 have the same 9-room layout and no items or details worth exploring.  There's no 13th floor, per superstitious tradition; on floor 11, AN ALARM SOUNDS! A GUARD KICKS YOU OUT OF THE BUILDING!  The most thematically appropriate area is the 9th floor, where after KNOCK-OUT GAS COMES OUT OF THE VENTS, the player awakens naked and tied to a bed; 5 beautiful women enter and the festivities begin, until UH, OH... YOU CAN'T TAKE IT! YOUR HEART GIVES OUT!

Significant trial-and-error discovers that floors 3 and 16 provide a clue about the plot -- a scientist rushes by, we can see that he's looking for something, and then he disappears behind a secret locked door (that we cannot access.)  Of course, this is an "adult" adventure, so it's also noted that HE LEFT AN OBNOXIOUS FART IN THE ROOM - ECCH!  We can only flee S back into the elevator, but at least we're still alive.

The only floor we truly need to visit is the 7th floor, housing the Scientist's Lab.  There's a substantial maze here, of a sort; it's laid out logically, and there aren't enough objects in the game to allow mapping it out in the traditional way.  But there are fatal dead ends aplenty -- we must keep trying available directions, restarting frequently as we suffer repeated death by Dobermans and floors giving way, to find the single safe route to the scientist's lab.

When at last we arrive in the Transfiguration Room, we see the scientist cursing his broken video screen.  Giving him the Pac-Man arcade monitor makes him happy, and he allows us to "observe" his experiment in progress.  There's a BEAUTIFUL WOMAN lying on a table; we know she is attractive because the game gives us her measurements, 38-24-36.  She is also UNCONSCIENCE (which is either a misspelling or a Freudian slip).

So -- do we turn into a girl so we can enter the Wet T-Shirt Contest?  Sort of -- we SIT, PUSH BUTTON, and after a blinding flash, we wake up in the woman's body, leaving our lifeless corpse temporarily in the lab.  We are informed that we have 1 hour to spend in the BEAUTIFUL WOMAN'S BODY -- no, not that way -- so there's no time (and, thankfully, no parser support) to dilly-dally with our new toys.  It's time to enter the tit-ular contest!  Sorry.

For once, the parser helps us out -- if we're unsure what to do after we enter the Boom-Boom Club, any command that's not the expected one yields WHY NOT < GO DRESSING ROOM >?.  When we do GO DRESSING ROOM, the result is detailed but not at all interactive -- we don a t-shirt emblazoned with the number 6, endure a humiliating, sexist public ritual involving way too much cold water and jumping up and down, win $200.00 in prize money, and are escorted out of the building, presumably to avoid the slavering manimals inside.

Now all we have to do is find our way back into the lab, transfer back into our original body, and grab the money before the test subject wakes up.  We've succeeded in paying off our presumably illegally-incurred debt by taking over the body of a drugged woman incapable of consent and exploiting said body for our own monetary gain.  But the game calls this a victory:

Sigh.  Heroic this one is not, but it has its novel moments and I enjoyed working my way through it even though the storyline makes one feel dirty, and not in the good way.  My walkthrough is below the fold.

***** WALKTHROUGH *****