Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Star Cruiser (1980/2012)

I was a bit pressed for time with a busy work weekend, so it was a good opportunity to jump right into  Roger Wilcox's second vintage/remade adventure, Star Cruiser, written for the TRS-80 in 1980 and remade by the author for Windows PCs in 2012.  It's an enter-and-escape-the-alien-ship game, a fairly standard old school trope, and like Wilcox's first effort, Misadventure, this second adventure's setup mentions that several people have recently died trying to achieve the game's objective:

The design is also similar -- most rooms are only lightly described and contain only a few objects of interest, though the parser and map are slightly more expansive.  Most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward, in part because there aren't many things to try, but I did have to cheat a bit to find the correct word for the right idea at one point.

Interested adventurers can download Mr. Wilcox's adventures for Windows at his website, and they're freely available so I encourage you to try out Star Cruiser before proceeding with my comments below.  For the sake of history and time-constrained gamers everywhere, I will be documenting my experience in detail, and there are certain to be...

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

We begin standing outside an alien star cruiser, with a note on its side conveniently reading, "Entry word -- ZLP", with nothing in inventory and nowhere else we're allowed to go.  SAY ZLP, as suggested, takes us into the ship's Port of Entry.  (The game doesn't actually capitalize location names as I will be doing here, but the Infocom convention makes it a little bit easier for me to keep my prose straight!)

North of the entryway is a Very Wet Room containing a bucket of water, and east of that room is Security Outpost #1, where a =Threatening little alien= takes the place of the customary dwarf.  And it's not uncommon for the alien to randomly shoot us with a laser beam, ending the game before we can respond.  (This is also an annoying thing about Wilcox's Windows updates -- when the story ends in an unsatisfactory manner, we have to exit and restart the program before we can load a saved game or try again.)

South of the entry is the Room of Opening, with a dull key and a button on the south wall that opens another exit in that direction.  The Room of Reflection east of here contains a hand mirror, fittingly, and north of that room is the Room of Illumination, where we can honor long-standing tradition as we GET LAMP.

The Weapon's [sic] Room contains a ray gun, which should be useful against the alien... except that even when we manage to make it into the room and dodge the alien's welcoming shot, when we SHOOT ALIEN, our shot can also randomly miss.  It took me several tries, restarting and reloading until probability went my way; I always find these random-chance situations frustrating, especially because while it seems like the hand mirror might be a useful way to deflect the alien's beam, it doesn't seem to confer any protection at all.

Once we do succeed, the alien's body vanishes in a cloud of greasy black smoke -- a dwarf by any other name, it seems.  The next room is Security Outpost #1.5, which contains... a =Threatening little robot=.  We can't THROW WATER (the bucket of water just lands on the ground) or POUR WATER to short-circuit him, but at least he's not as immediately lethal as the alien.  SHOOT ROBOT doesn't work, as the beam bounces off his shiny surface.  The parser doesn't recognize GIVE or EMPTY at all, and we can't UNLOCK ROBOT or OPEN ROBOT with the dull key.  We can't GET ROBOT, and he won't let us walk past and ignore him.  WATER is just a synonym for BUCKET, so DROP WATER doesn't do anything either.

Aha!-- well, to be honest, I actually had to look at the source code -- we have to SPLASH ROBOT, as Mr. Wilcox conveniently keeps the object management simple: As the bucket mystically refills, the water hits the robot and short-circuits it!  Right idea, obstinate parser, immutably full bucket of water.

Past the robot is an iron gate, and we can readily UNLOCK GATE with the dull key, leading through an "L" Intersection to a room with a closed hatch.  Before we try to open the hatch, we can check out the Room of Mystery to the east, where we find a suitably Mysterious ring.  North of the hatch room is the Aliens' Burial Chamber, with a closed coffin.

We OPEN COFFIN to find a key sharpener, apparently for use with the dull key (I assumed the reference was to its coloration, not its physical sharpness.)  We can't take the sharpener but we can SHARPEN KEY right here, turning it into a Sharp key (it seems there ought to be a music joke here, but no such gag manifests.)

Now we can UNLOCK HATCH with the un-dulled key, and then... well, we can't GO HATCH or ENTER HATCH or USE HATCH or move UP or DOWN or otherwise find any intuitive way to go there... oh, wait, no, we actually can CLIMB HATCH.  Whew!

The top-of-hatch room leads to some more locations.  An Area With Some Bars suggests we need to breach those bars somehow.  A "T" Intersection to the north leads to Security Outpost #1.7, where a =Deadly prismatic square= holds sway, immune to laser fire and water with its diabologeometry.

South of the top-of-hatch is the "Star Cruiser's *strong*-hold," which seems intentionally worded enough to be a clue.  There's a small envelope here containing a large pill, and to the south is the ship's kitchen containing a Large amount of good food.  We can EAT FOOD, and EAT PILL, and we suddenly become very strong

We're not the Incredible Hulk, though -- we can't KILL SQUARE, nor we can we GET BARS or PULL BARS, but we can LIFT BARS to rip them out of existence.  In a Round Room east of the removed bars, we can acquire a silver ball.  Returning to the Security Outpost, we THROW BALL, and The ball dents the prismatic square out of existence in perhaps one of the mildest boss victories ever.  Further west we find Security Outpost #2, where another annoying alien randomly kills us.  This time it seems we have a better shot if we're carrying the mirror, but it still took some restarts and reloads before I got randomly past him.

Now we can access the Star Cruiser's Control Room, where we face a panel of 3 buttons.  PUSH BUTTON yields You are now in Mode 2, actually a different mode for the game's parser, and we can choose to push button 1, 2, 3 or select option 4 to return to normal mode and resume our exploration.

These buttons actually provide a few different endings -- button 2 is useless, as Nothing happens, but button 3 rather surprisingly sets the player up as the commander of the USS Enterprise, in order to promote Wilcox's own version of the popular Star Trek games that were making their way from mainframe computers to the TRS-80 at the time:

Button 1 provides the most satisfying and dramatic ending, as we set the ship's self destruct counter and are given 20 seconds (moves, actually) to escape to a victorious conclusion:

This one is a little more involved than Misadventure, but only just; it's still a quick playthrough, with simple guardian puzzles and a minimal plot.  I enjoy a game of that sort once in a while, so I have no complaints, and I look forward to playing more of Wilcox's games as time goes on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Misadventure (1980/2012)

This week, we're playing a bit of a historical oddity -- Roger M. Wilcox's Misadventure, originally written in 1980 for the TRS-80 computers and updated in 2012 to run under Windows (and not to be confused with Bob Krotts' similarly-named series of adult TRS-80 adventure games.).  I ran across the author's body of work during a random internet search for TRS-80 adventure games I hadn't sampled yet, and as I haven't been able to find the original version anywhere, I'm happy to tackle this modern edition -- it still feels like a classic early text adventure, running in a Window with proportional fonts.  Mr. Wilcox has published free Windows conversions of quite a few games in a series of more than 20 adventure games he wrote for the TRS-80 back in the early 1980s -- some of the original source code has unfortunately been lost to the ages, but his surviving games have been converted and at this writing can be freely downloaded at http://www.rogermwilcox.com/apps/.

Misadventure was Wilcox's first effort, and it's not a very long or difficult adventure -- I was able to play through it in about 90 minutes including note-taking for this post.  The design is simple to accommodate a limited parser -- there are no hidden details to be EXAMINEd, and few verbs aside from the essentials; there aren't even many red herrings or nested relationships, so found objects and puzzle solutions fit together in fairly obvious ways.  The story has something to do with time travel, though it's not really a mechanic in the game -- the player is sent back in time as the game begins, and we just have to survive getting from point A to point B so we can return to our own time:

Normally I suggest that readers play these games independently before reading my further comments, especially when they are freely available as is the case here.  Misadventure may be an exception for experienced adventurers, due to its simplicity, but players new to these types of games may find it a good introductory experience, especially because it is easy to get up and running on a Windows PC.   There's not a lot to discuss here, but in the interest of documenting adventures large and small, there will of necessity be thorough...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD *****

The story begins in a dusty 3-way intersection, after we are informed that the player is the first live citizen test subject for a time machine.  We can't travel back from underground, and we're only given a flashlight to work with; apparently some twenty-five previous test subjects met with messy ends, so the setup is not particularly reassuring.

The parser's vocabulary is limited -- some generally-expected verbs like EXAMINE and OPEN are not supported.  And the map isn't quite as big as it seems when we're first exploring it -- lots of apparently new exits loop back to rooms we've already visited.  The Windows stand-alone program is a little more old-school and cumbersome than I'd like -- it intentionally hangs when we die, so we have to exit out and restart to play again; the system provides Load and Save features, but we can't Load a game if we're dead, so frequent re-launches are necessary.

The map features a number of distinct rooms with potentially useful items in them -- generally one item per location -- and most of these objects will be needed to finish the game. The armory to the east of the starting point has a suit of shiny armor.  The treasury has a treasure chest we can't open, and the Magic Central room has a can of 3-in-One Oil and walls with letters X, Q and Y written on them.

The Room of Webs contains a snake-bite kit, guarded by a huge spider, and the complex's dungeon (kind of belying the sci-fi setup) provides a worn-down sword.  The Small Room pays homage to Zork Colossal Cave (thanks for the correction, Roger!), as There is a threatening little dwarf in the room with you! along with some insect repellent spray.  We have to be careful here, as the dwarf can kill the player instantly if one of his blows randomly connects.  (I think this is actually pseudo-random, as in my experience if I went there on the third move, I always died, so a more roundabout route is recommended.)

A huge snake bars passage north in the Hall of the Mountain Queen, so we will probably need to dispatch the serpent somehow.  The Room of Technology contains a phaser.  There's also a Priest's Temple north of the starting point, with no objects in it, and I never found anything interesting to do here; the usual standbys of KNEELing and PRAYing produce no response from whatever deity this Temple is honoring.

We can use the phaser to SHOOT DWARF, then use the insect spray to SPRAY SPIDER and take the snake-bite kit.  But the snake can still fatally bite us, so that's not useful as a post-hoc remedy.  I tried taking direct action against the snake, but didn't get anywhere with SWING SWORD -- Your sword bounces harmlessly off the opponent's tough hide -- or FIRE PHASER -- There is nothing here worth shooting at. Believe me.  So I had to revisit this puzzle later.

The Magic Central room's array of letters appears to suggest a puzzle -- SAY XYZZY does nothing (nor would I have expected it to), but SAY XQY returns, "Nothing happens.  Don't forget, the letters may not necessarily belong in the order they appeared."  SAY QYX is less enlightening, yielding only "I don't know what 'qyx' is."  SAY XYQ seems more potentially promising -- nothing happens in the Magic Central room, but we don't get an error message either.

With the armor on, we can... still not walk past the snake. Hmmm.  We can't SHOW KIT to the snake or USE KIT proactively, but if we DROP KIT, then The snake turns white with fear at the sight of the kit, and flees for its life.  I guess it's very sensitive to being disarmed, or else it knows something about how the kit works that the player is unable to discern.

Past the snake, we find ourselves in the Room of Concealment, with a panel on the east wall; we can't MOVE or OPEN it, or OIL it for that matter, but we can PUSH PANEL to enter a secret magical passage.  And if we SAY XYQ here, we find ourselves magically transported to the Large Room, with a giant already attacking. 

Fortunately with the armor on (it is worn as soon as we pick it up), The blow bounces harmlessly off your armor every time the giant tries to attack.  SWING SWORD is no good against the giant's tough hide either, but SHOOT GIANT informs us that The giant cannot withstand phaser fire, so he dies.  We can't claim anything from the dead giant on the floor, but dispatching him allows us to travel south of the area.

We now find ourselves at the foot of a rusty iron door (hint hint).  OIL DOOR allows us to enter a room at the foot of a large wooden ladder.  We climb the ladder...


The game is abruptly over, as we find ourselves in the middle of some large-scale historical battle, and are swiftly rescued by the TIME RAY in the nick of time before we are trampled to death, winning the game as the first successful time traveler!  This final event seems to come about through sheer luck and no particular feat accomplished by the player, but victory of a sort is ours!

The game scores us based on how many valuable items we came back with, and since there aren't many items or any apparent inventory carrying limit to deal with, this isn't hard to pull off.  (Actually, we only have to bring back one such item to *REALLY* win the game -- if we bring back none at all, then the effort is considered a loss.)

Misadventure is very straightforward -- nothing is hidden, no details or complex puzzles need to be explored, and most of the objects available have fairly obvious applications.  It was a quick and simple play, but sometimes that's just what I want as my weekly deadline here approaches.  I expect more sophistication from Mr. Wilcox's later efforts, but I found this one a pleasantly brief diversion.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Simon the Sorcerer (1993)

This week I'm finally getting around to playing a well-regarded if not terribly familiar British point-and-click adventure game -- Simon the Sorcerer, published in 1993 by AdventureSoft for the PC and Amiga.  This is a contemporary effort in the Lucasarts style, with lots of incidental animation and full voice-acting, designed by Simon Woodroffe with a bit of Enchanter and Monkey Island influence.

I'm surprised this game isn't better known in the States -- it's well-written and often quite funny, with deeply nested puzzles, colorful characters and decent performances including Chris Barrie as young Simon.  The background artwork is really beautiful, calling to mind the best of the Amiga era but in 256-color VGA, with Paul Drummond and his team using limited colors and more shades to produce some very nice effects.  The style permits plenty of detail and puts most of the Sierra adventures' painted-and-scanned art to shame, and Kevin Preston's animation of Simon is full of personality.  The puzzle design is a little rough around the edges -- too many potential solutions aren't really acknowledged as such, and object hunting is often the primary requirement -- but the story is fun and well plotted.

I always encourage interested readers to play these games before reading my comments -- Simon the Sorcerer is fun to play, and more importantly it's not at all hard to come by.  It's still available commercially directly from AdventureSoft and also from www.gog.com, and it can be run on many modern platforms using the ScummVM interpreter.  Beyond this point, be advised that I will be documenting my experience from beginning to end, and there are certain to be...

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

After an opening and amusing credits sequence in which our 14-year-old hero Simon tries and fails to pull off an impressive array of hat-based magic tricks, his dog Chippy lures him into opening an old spell book, creating a warp that takes us into a magical land where Simon finds himself on the verge of becoming dinner for some goblins.

After a timely rescue by Chippy, Simon finds himself in a magician's home where a note has been left -- he is asked to rescue the good sorcerer Calypso from the evil Sordid, but must first become a wizard by consulting the wizards in a nearby tavern.  Simon acquires a magic postcard for saving and restoring, and a map permitting convenient fast-travel around the game's world as major landmarks are discovered.  We also learn that the dog actually belongs to Calypso, which explains a few things about the plot to this point.

There's a visible and audible Monkey Island influence here -- the music and the general style of the game and character animation call that classic to mind, but that isn't a bad thing and this one has a distinctly British character.  Unlike Guybrush Threepwood, Simon is a reluctant hero, none too happy to be stuck here in this magical land and forced to run errands hither and yon; some of the most memorable humor comes from his breaking the fourth wall to comment on the absurdities of the genre.

Calypso's fridge is stuck shut, but we can obtain a pair of scissors from the drawer in his desk.  A tapestry on the wall features strange symbols that we can't apparently make any sense of yet, so it's time to go out and explore the world.

A muscular blacksmith to the east is beating a red-hot implement on his anvil; he's too engrossed in his work for conversation, and the forge door behind him is locked.

Near a pond with geese swimming in it, a dodgy geezer is peddling his wares -- "priceless" figurines, one gold piece per.  He also has a supposed strength potion and an illusory invisibility amulet, neither of which really seem to work or can actually be purchased; we can also try to sell him any of Simon's possessions, though he doesn't seem interested in any of them.

A general store run by a two-headed punk shopkeeper suffers at the hands of its argumentative proprietor(s), from whom Simon can try to get information about Sordid, Carmen Miranda (apparently a Carmen Sandiego joke), and the square root of 1369.  The shop has cake, cosmetics, beans, corn, flour, and many other items for sale.  It should be a good source for ingredients later, but we have no reason or ability to buy anything just now.

The Drunken Druid is reputedly the local wizard hangout, populated by the standard fantasy world characters.  We can talk to a pair of nubile Valkyries to gain some information about Sordid -- they are here to battle him too -- and the Tower -- someone called the Druid may be able to help.  We can also try Simon's worst pickup lines, to no positive effect aside from learning there's an armorer in Northgate.  The barman is enjoying the business boost provided by all the Sordid-hunting heroes coming to town, and apparently disappearing without a trace; Simon can order a Wet Wizard, but the bar is short on sparrow juice; similar ingredient issues afflict the Warlock Surprise and the Cool Red Witch.  While he's distracted looking for ingredients, we can try to access his taps, but at the moment we have nothing to put any ill-gotten Guinness into.

The Wizards are hanging out in a back room, though they are pretending to be farmers when Simon asks until he tells them that his mouse pointer indicates they are "Wizards."  They won't give him any information because he's not a wizard, yet; he can become one by bringing the wizards a magical staff with a crystal sphere on the end, hidden somewhere in the area.
A lovely garden path outside the village leads into a dark forest with paths that lead to quite a few new locations and characters.  Some termites (it sounds like) are looking for spare wood... ah, they are woodworms, living in an old stump.  A wolf is lurking in another part of the woods, though he proves to be just another harmless animation of the local fauna, and to the southwest Simon finds a thatched hut with a deep well.  Inside Simon finds a locked trunk, a spinning wheel, a Jack-o'-lantern, a cauldron full of smelly green stuff, and a broom, amid other witchy paraphernalia.

A bridge is guarded by a troll, where billy goats read an obviously scripted scenario that we gather has played out many times previously.  The troll is tired of the gig and wants to eat one of his employers for spite, but he doesn't dislike them personally, so he's just going on strike.  He wants satisfaction but isn't very clear about what that means -- apparently he wants stewed goat to eat.

A tough-looking barbarian is distressed and momentarily disabled by a thorn stuck in his foot -- removing it earns Simon a whistle he can use to summon him if needed.  This is one of those areas where the game's design falters a little bit -- there seem to be many situations where it might be applicable, but only one really matters, and when we get to that point we will find that the whistle's role is handled automatically in a cutscene.

Other characters set up some other puzzles which we won't be able to deal with just yet.  A Sousaphone player doesn't sound very musical, blocking Simon's progress with his infernal noise.  A paleontological dig in progress is cordoned off, though Simon can talk to the paleontologist from above the hole he is digging.  He's looking for the missing link between man and vegetable -- allowing a quick Dan Quayle joke -- so if we find a fossil he will be interested.

Only dwarves are allowed into the Dwarf Mine.  A foreboding cave leads to the tree-trunk home of a talking salamander-like creature, the Swampling, who is very happy to have company at his unattended birthday party.  There is disgusting swamp stew on the fire, which Simon is forced to eat by the hospitable creature, though he can't quite keep it down. 

A snowy landscape past the Swampling's place features a large, ugly barbarian statue, a wizard statue, and a sleeping giant near a large tree that we could probably use his help knocking down to make a bridge.  A woodcutter is frustrated by the local trees who seem to be resisting his efforts to harvest them; he needs a Milrith axe (which he freely admits is an anagram of Mithril) and gives Simon a metal detector to use in seeking out this rare ore.

Large daunting doors adorn a dungeon-like cave; we can't open them, but a piece of paper tucked under a rock appears to be a shopping list for the shop in town.  A sacrificial table is apparently for shaved lions?  I never found out what this was for, and in fact only found my way there once; it's used as the setting for Simon's prologue encounter with the hungry goblins and appears to serve no purpose in-game, though it would be odd if we never saw it again during Simon's travels.

A wise owl isn't very, or at least he can't remember what it is he might want Simon to do.  But some conversation gets him to remember he is an astrologer, and he can give Simon some vague but genuinely useful hints -- for example, that dwarves love drinking beer.

Taking the shopping list to the shop produces a bundle of supplies, eventually; we won't see them for quite a while.  Exploring parts of town we didn't see before, we find a ladder that Simon can magically tuck away into the inventory stored in his amazingly capacious wizard's hat, and a wagon wheel that is too large to carry around for some reason.
Inside a building with some manner of alchemy in progress, we can pick up a specimen jar "for invertebrates," so we will have to see if we can use it to do something with the woodworms.  There's also an inanimate and non-portable papier-mache moose head mounted on the wall, another red herring in a game chock-full of them.

A cottage has a chocolate truffle door, locked, and an occupied beehive Simon won't go near.  We can pick up a metal bell clapper from the Blacksmith's shop, I didn't notice that before.

Wandering around and trying to use the metal detector in various places produces no immediate result.  But in the snowy area, we can use it, to find some buried milrith beneath the snow.  Unfortunately Simon doesn't seem to have any way to dig it up at the moment, but the metal detector is left behind as a useful marker.

We can try to steal the witch's broom, causing her to appear and threaten the thieving Simon.  She throws him out, but if he returns, she will challenge him to a wizards' duel -- the stakes being her broom versus his life -- but she won't really engage him until he becomes a proper wizard.

Simon can use the specimen jar to "pocket" some of the swampling's stew, exhausting the supply so that it has to go out looking for more ingredients, taking its net and bucket with it, unfortunately.  But we can move the heavy wooden crate in the corner to discover a trapdoor.  Below is a wooden walkway through the swamp, but it has a loose plank so Simon can't just stroll across it.  At least we now have a jar full of revolting swamp gunk, should we need such a thing.

We can pull a bucket of water up from the witch's well by turning the handle.  We can visit the troll bridge again -- the striking troll is intrigued by the whistle around Simon's neck, and if we let him have a go, the barbarian shows up and throws him into the stream.  Simon can take the troll's strike placard, reading Equal Rites [sic] for Trolls, though I never found a use for it.

We can also access some new locations now -- an oaf is frustrated with his non-growing magic beans, and Simon can water them with the bucket from the witch's place, but nothing seems to happen.  A strong tower with a wooden door features a clapperless bell, easy enough to fix with the Blacksmith's clapper -- a female voice replies, "What the hell do you want?" and nearly knocks Simon out with her ropelike tresses flung down from above.


Climbing the hair allows Simon to introduce himself; the princess, half-hidden behind a dressing screen, was kidnapped as a young piglet (?) and held captive in this tower, and she can only be cured by a kiss from someone from another dimension.  Simon's kiss transforms her back into a proper pig ("Repulser," get it?) and he stuffs her in his hat.  We can pick up some leftover beans if we go back to where the oaf was; nothing appears to have grown in the meanwhile.

It feels like time to see what we might have missed.  The Sousaphone player still sounds awful; he's not really blocking the way, as we can go around him the long way once the bridge troll is cleared, but we can't go past him from either direction.  We have nothing the peddler is interested in yet; we can pick up some rope at the blacksmith's, and there's a magnet stuck to the fridge door in Calypso's cottage.  There's a pile of magical compost behind the cottage, and some apparently removable floorboards in Repulser's tower.

There's a gorge where Simon can see "someone fishing down there."  We can combine the rope and magnet, but can't do anything with it here.  We can pick up a feather near the Wise Owl, and... nope, we can't use it to make the sleeping Giant sneeze.  We can, however, use the pig to devour the chocolate truffle door on the strange cottage.  There's a smokebox inside -- the equivalent of a giant joint for bees -- and a beekeeper's protective gear.  We need some means of lighting the smokebox, though.

The game tends toward a lot of "That doesn't work" where it seems like a possibility exists -- putting the ladder down the well, or giving it to the woodworms, or trying to light the smokebox using various stoves and candles in the game -- which makes the design seem a little threadbare or under-playtested at times.  At least the magical map saves on shoe leather, making it relatively quick to get around and experiment.

We can use the scissors on the dwarf in the tavern to steal his beard, then wear it to get into the Dwarves' mine... except we also need a password.  We can grow the magic beans in the magical compost in back of Calypso's cottage to get hold of a magical watermelon, which we can stuff into the musician's Sousaphone to shut him up.  Simon promises to get it repaired in an hour, and adds it to his inventory.  And now we can blow the Sousaphone to wake the sleeping giant -- only briefly, but long enough for him to stir and casually knock a nearby tree down, creating a bridge over the ravine.

Crossing the bridge, we find a third statue, a smaller one of a pygmy warrior woman.  There's also a cave with a sign: "Warning: Spontaneously Combustible Substance."  Inside is a dragon with a cold, who warns Simon that his breath is not completely under control before blowing him out of the cave, covered in ash but not fatally burned (Simon never dies in the game, though he is often knocked around a bit.)  We can't seem to get close enough to the dragon to use the feather or light the smokebox, or try to take the nearby fire extinguisher, or talk to the creature.  We can't get another bucket of water to throw on him from the witch's well, for some reason.  There's a boulder above the entrance to the dragon's cave, but Simon can't seem to use the ladder with it; it's "too dangerous" without further elaboration.

The owl's hints tell us that there's a magic ring in the river, but we can't seem to use the magnet and string with the gorge to go fishing.  Walkthrough time?  ACK -- there's a book of matches on top the fruit machine in the tavern, my casual pixel-hunting missed those entirely.  With the matches, we can light the smokebox, smoke out the bees and obtain some beeswax from the hive.

Being more observant now, we see some suspicious herbs in the cottage where Simon found the specimen jar earlier.  He can't reach them, from the landing at the top of the stairs or with the ladder, so this seems to be here to facilitate a subtle marijuana joke. 

There's also a cold remedy on a table here, so perhaps we should go see the dragon.  We can toss the cold remedy in, and he goes to sleep so we can acquire the fire extinguisher.  There are gold coins strewn around too, but Simon is unwilling to risk taking any with the dragon sleeping in the midst of the hoard.

A rock near the Dwarf Mine has writing on it -- it reads "beer," which does indeed turn out to be the password.  Inside the mine is a busy dwarf at a desk who doesn't want to talk, and a sleeping dwarf "guard" who nevertheless will not let Simon pass.  He seems amenable to a bribe, and there's a bottle on the desk, but we can't take it with us to try to fill it somewhere.  There are a bunch of empty bottles in the keg room downstairs, but Simon doesn't want empty ones -- another possible solution that is the wrong tree up which to be barking.

I missed a whole path behind the dragon's cave for the longest time -- here we find an "interesting rock" with a fossil in the middle of it.  We can't give the dwarf rock to the paleontologist laboring in his hole, but we can give the fossil to him -- except now he wants Simon to take the fossil out of the rock.  We can put it on the blacksmith's anvil to extract the fossil of a shelled creature -- now excited, the paleontologist plans to head to the Craggy Peaks to investigate further.  Hopefully we'll be able to get him to help us dig up some mithril there... and yes, we find him already deep in a new hole, and some milrith ore has been tossed aside.

Giving the ore to the woodcutter directly doesn't work; we can get the blacksmith to fashion an axe out of it, if we let him keep the leftover metal.  Giving the woodcutter the mithril axe-head sends him off to try his luck with the resistant trees, and Simon is now free to explore his tree-trunk home.  A mountain-climbing pin here looks potentially useful.

Exploring some more in the dragon's cave area finds a series of climbing pins inserted in a Gigeresque cliff face, with one obvious gap Simon can close.  On the other side we find an evil-looking snowman, whom we can talk to to learn that "You shall not pass."  We'll have to find some way to dispose of this obstacle.  We can go a different route in this area to find a tree with a splodge of pink spray paint on it -- a talking tree, as matters develop.  The tree knows some magic words, but is unsure what they do; Simon is interested, but the tree wants the paint removed so the woodcutter won't chop him down.  The tree suggests some white spirit from the shop in the village would do the job; it looks like Simon will need one of the dragon's gold coins to buy it.

We can extinguish the woodcutter's fireplace fire with the extinguisher, revealing a hook over the fireplace, to no immediate purpose.  I needed a hint to learn that if we move the hook, an elevator takes us downstairs to the woodcutter's cellar, where we can pick up some fine mahogany (Simon is allergic to oak, teak, Boeotian cherrywood, and all the other available options, so this is our only choice if we've forgotten that the woodworms settled on mahogany in an earlier conversation.)

Finding the woodworms again took me a little doing as it's not immediately adjacent to any of the magic map's landmarks; we can't give the mahogany to the tree stump, or use it with it, but talking to it causes all the woodworms to move happily into the mahogany stored in Simon's inventory hat ("Damn sight better than that bloody stump!")

Simon the Sorcerer often gives us unusual items with no apparent purpose; it's a nested series of puzzles, though often the solution or key elements of it turns up before the related puzzle becomes apparent.  Can we use the woodworms on the floorboards in Repulser's tower? Yep -- Simon drops down to ground level, where the woodworms drill another hole in the wooden floor as Simon wisely steps away.  There's nothing to do here, and we can't get the tower door open from this side either.  (This seems like a potential sticking point in a game that seems fairly forgiving otherwise, as if we don't have the ladder it appears Simon can't get out of this area.)  Simon is left with a wedge of mahogany after this event, another red herring as nothing ever needs to be wedged that I could discover.

The bottom level of Repulser's tower features an engraved stone sarcophagus, which Simon can open to find some bandages... a mummy, actually, who scares Simon right out the door he couldn't open earlier.  Apparently Simon needs to be a full-fledged wizard to deal with this situation as well?  We can't use matches to ignite the mummy, but the bandaged walking corpse appears to be carrying the staff Simon needs to deliver to the wizards.  Ah -- there's a Loose Bandage on the back side of the mummy that we can Pick up to unravel him, Scooby Doo style.

So at last Simon is off to see the wizards!  And now, Simon is a wizard... as soon as he pays the subscription fee, 30 gold pieces.

It's walkthrough time again for me -- ah, we can get down into the gorge where we earlier saw a fisherperson, by clicking on some vines in the very lower left-hand corner of the screen.  (I think I might have had an easier time if I'd played this adventure in full-screen 320x240 resolution, but it's easier to make notes for these posts if I run it in a smaller window.) The fisherman turns out to be Golum, a non-copyright-infringing man in a costume, here for the annual Tolkien Appreciation Society meeting.  He's fishing in a fruitless attempt to come up with lunch for the gathering; Simon can give him the Swamp Stew, via a dialogue option, to provide lunch for the group, earning use of the fishing rod in return. Simon spends quite some time fishing, pulling up lots of junk before finding The Ring and verifying its invisibility-conferring power.  Oddly, we can't Use Vines to climb back up, but we can just walk to them and climb up.

With The Ring, we... can't get the Dragon's gold coins, or sneak past the guard in the Dwarf Mine, or get past the Snowman in the mountains; Simon refuses to use it in these situations which seem perfectly suited to a little invisibility.  Hmmmm.  What else?  Can we steal some beer from the tavern while the bartender is distracted?  I never found out, because on the way there we see that the supplies we ordered earlier from the shop in town have been packaged.  If we Open the box, Simon climbs into it and then puts the ring on for invisibility after it gets delivered to a storeroom in the Goblins' enclave.  Somehow Simon's spell book has ended up here, and a paper with scribbled notes suggest someone has been trying to use it.  The door to the storeroom is locked, but it's the traditional old key-in-lock-on-other-side-of-door routine -- a rat bone on the floor is used to push the key out, slipping the paper under the door before doing so catches it.

We can pick up a metal slops bucket with a hole in the side, and go downstairs to a torture chamber, where the village Druid is manacled to a rack.  He believes Simon is in league with the forces of evil and threatens him with unnamed (and apparently unrealizable) consequences.  We can pick up some mints on the floor, which apparently have warming-up properties if we try to Consume them.  We also see an Iron Maiden and red-hot Sharp Things there, as well as a large sealed door and some metal bars.  Simon can pick up a flaming brand; removing The Ring gets the Druid to recognize that Simon is a young boy, but he still thinks he's being deceived.  Simon has to pass a trial -- after talking the Druid out of the more severe silver-dagger-in-the-heart test -- by putting the Druid's silver cross against his forehead.  Simon reacts with a shriek, but only because the metal is cold, and the Druid is convinced.

The escape plan takes shape -- the Druid can change into a frog, under the light of the full moon, which seems a tall order.  We will probably have to solve this with items available here, just for the sake of design.  I tried a lot of items before finding out that we can put the bucket with a hole int he side on the Druid's head, and then shine the flaming brand through the hole.  This seems to be close enough for the purpose -- the Druid transforms and hops off through the bars to get help, while Simon finds the ring has expired and must hide in the Iron Maiden.  Some goblin guards burst in, and eventually leave; days pass, and Simon emerges as the Druid frog returns with a hacksaw.  This was quite a little side quest to retrieve the spell book and some breath mints!

The mints can't be used to warm up the Snowman, apparently.  But the feather that was no good against the sleeping giant works on the sleeping dwarf in the mine's beer cavern, causing him to flip over and reveal an ornate key, though no obvious lock suggests itself.  Back at the tavern, we can plug the beer barrel's tap with the beeswax.  The barman takes the apparently empty barrel outside and gives Simon a leaflet promoting the Happy Hour special, ale for 1 GP per mug, with a free beer voucher attached.  Underage Simon can't just wear the beard to get a beer, though.

He can, however, pick up the stopped-up beer barrel outside the tavern, and give it to the dwarf guard, who invites Simon to participate in a drinking competition.  Simon is free to ignore this and go down into the now unguarded mine, where one annoyingly cheerful dwarf sings an unlicensed fragment of Disney's "Hi-Ho" while another heavyset dwarf yells at him to "Shut up!"

The treasure chamber guard -- after we unlock the door with the ornate key -- isn't due to be relieved for another hour.  We can talk to a dwarf in the busy chamber even if we're not sure why Simon would want to do so -- one dialogue choice is, "I dunno.  I hoped a relevant question would appear." -- and we don't learn much except a hint about how to get the key which we already have in this case.  We can snag a hook on a rope hanging near the treasure chamber door, and we can bribe the treasure chamber guard with the free beer coupon from the tavern, so that he willingly gives Simon a single gem.

The peddler has no interest in The One Ring, or the Gem in conversation, apparently.  But if we Give the gem to him, he offers 20 gold pieces (with a little haggling) and then vanishes.  Now Simon can go to the shop and buy the white spirit -- and a hammer hanging nearby, which comes with a single free nail, eliminating one possible complication.  Wiping the pink splodge off the talking tree earns Simon some magic words, though most are fairly ordinary -- Alakazam!, Hocus Pocus!, Abracadbra! and Sausages!  Repairing the bridge below the Swampling's home leads to a giant skull in the middle of a lake, a.k.a. Skull Island, where Simon can pick some Frogsbane.

What next?  Let's go back to the Dragon's cave, as we are running out of things to do it seems.  Simon can use the hook on the boulder outside the Dragon's cave (where the ladder was not useful) to climb up and fish for gold coins through the skylight, using the magnet (even though, as Simon acknowledges, gold is not magnetic.)  We can get up to 41 gold pieces before the hoard is exhausted, at least to the extent that Simon can manage this way.

30 GP to the mahjong-playing Wizards makes Simon a wizard, in rather perfunctory fashion.  At least Simon gets a Young Wizards starter pack full of useless junk, and can get a little information about the main quest and third act of the game.

We can't cast any spells on the Snowman yet.  How about the Witch?  The duel is apparently based on magic words, as Simon and the Witch transform into various animals -- mongoose, snake, cat and mouse, rock-paper-scissors style -- and Simon tends to get his butt kicked 3-nil.

Ah -- something else has changed, the Druid is back at his home where we picked up the specimen jar earlier.  He gives Simon a last-resort potion, but needs some frogsbane in exchange -- we already have it, so that's an easy one.  This potion, as it turns out, is no use against the witch -- she is beatable, but it took me several tries. I got close with a 3-2 near win, turning into the snake and the mongoose alternately to play the odds, and finally won on my Nth try.

Simon takes the broom, and the witch turns into a dragon despite her official prohibition in the original rules; Simon has to turn into a mouse and exit through a mousehole in the wall.

Time to face the Snowman again.  Can we sweep him away with the broom? Nope.  But aha! -- well, walkthrough! -- we can't Use the mints on the frozen guardian, but we can Consume them to get firebreath, melting the Snowman away, and now Simon can reach the Tower of Doom.  (Note Simon's idle animation, he pulled out his walkman while I was making notes prior to taking this screenshot:)

As he tries to enter the Tower, the stone bridge falls away, leaving a gaping lava-filled gorge below.  Simon can use the witch's broom to get across, and the Druid's potion allows Simon to shrink down and enter through a crack at the bottom of the door, leaving most of his inventory behind in the process.  Chippy the dog is here, picking Simon up in his mouth, allowing Simon to grab a bit of hair in transit.  Along a ground-level path, Simon picks up a maple leaf, giant at his current scale.

I actually ran into a bug here -- Simon went into a hole in the side of a bucket, reported a matchstick there, but his sprite appeared in two places at once and then the game froze.  This continued to happen, so I attempted to proceed without it but realized I needed to get the matchstick somehow.  I finally figured out that if we Walk to the bucket, he picks it up and it goes into inventory; if we Look at the bucket, the same thing is supposed to happen but the game locks up.

We can pick up a pebble here also, and further west we can pull a lily leaf into range to use as a raft.  The matchstick makes a mast, and the leaf a sail, so the lily leaf becomes a proper boat of sorts.  Simon can lasso the tap with the hair, but the mechanism is stiff with rust; trying to use it allows Simon to climb up, but then he falls into the water. I thought he could just pull himself across to some seeds hanging nearby using the hair, but couldn't make that happen -- some walkthrough help suggests we can just move over there using the boat, if Simon stands on it while we click on the seeds.

Simon can attempt to cross the puddle on the boat, but it becomes too shallow for passage at one point, which is probably why we need to turn on the tap.  Ah, we can use the stone with the seed -- dumb, random trying on that one for me -- to get some oil for the tap.  Now the tap can be opened and a little water dripped out to raise the level a bit.

On the other side of the puddle is a frog, and a lawn gnome, and some mushrooms.  The frog's tongue pulls Simon into his pouch, and his struggles eventually cause him to be expelled, naked until he can put his robes back on.


Looking at the water at the edge of the puddle reveals a tadpole, which Simon can hold hostage to get past the frog (he humanely puts it back into the water after the frog leaves).  This looks like a dead end, but some magical mushrooms here allow Simon to return to full size and reenter the workshop through which he came in in miniature form.

An animated, animalistic chest now makes Simon's life difficult.  Simon won't stick around very long while the slavering container blusters and growls.  There's a shield on the floor, too close to the beast for comfort.  But there's a branch available on a tree in the garden, which we can use to jam the chest's lid/jaws open, then pick up a shield and a spear.

Walking down the stone staircase leads to a torture chamber -- the second one in this game.  We can get a skull down from above with the spear.  A locked chest here can't be opened with a key, but Simon can pick it up and smash it with a stone-on-a-chain gadget to obtain 8 candles.

Now what?  We can go upstairs to find a rather messy bedroom.  Sordid's magic wand capable of turning people into stone is here, and Simon meets a talking mirror that claims to be a magical scrying mirror, capable of spying on the world through any other reflective surface.  Simon can also obtain a pouch, a sock, and a book on magic wands from Sordid's room. 

The next level up the tower is a workshop occupied by a couple of demons apparently employed by Sordid, but they are playing a game of dice and decide to ignore the intruder.  Here Simon can obtain some chemicals, and Sordid's spell book, which "looks just like mine" in case we need a hint about that (though in truth we don't need to do any swapping or anything.)  This book contains a spell for dispelling demons to Hell, requiring some ingredients -- a skull (check), a mouse (hmmm), eight candles (check) and the demons' true names.  Conversation establishes that the quieter one is Max, and the talkative one is... not mentioning his name, though it seems to be Gerald, and it doesn't matter as these are not their true names.

We do, however, learn that the statues visible out in the Craggy Peaks were once great warriors out to stop Sordid, whom the evil wizard turned into stone.  The only way out of the Tower, per the demons, is via the teleporter in this room.  They actually want to be sent back to hell, as they are not particularly happy with their current employer.  But they don't believe Simon is a powerful wizard, as he's not fat, old and befuddled.  We will have to convince them by pulling off the spell without their help.

There's a mouse hole in the bedroom stairwell, and the sock reportedly smells like 100-year-old gorgonzola; it lures a mouse out, but Simon can't catch him this way.  Combining the sock and the pouch does the job, luring the mouse into the pouch and giving Simon time to close it.

Now Simon has the necessary equipment to cast the demon-returning spell.  "Gerald" and "Max" don't want to reveal their true, embarrassing names.  They will lend Simon some chalk so he can draw a double square and set up the skull and candles, but they still won't give out their names. The shield is tarnished, and can be cleaned to a highly reflective sheen with the chemicals, allowing Simon to observe them through the scrying mirror and learn that they are named Belchgrabbit and Snobfondle.

Simon sends them home, and learns that the teleporter can be used -- one time only -- by pressing the self-destruct button.  We can only go to the Fiery Pits of Rondor, a good place to dispose of magical wands according to the book in Sordid's room.


It turns out to be a poorly-attended tourist trap.  Simon can snag a small pebble, again, but he has no cash to pay for admittance to the Pits.  The attendant hands him some brochures, which are bound together with a rubber band on closer inspection.  It seems we can't use it like a slingshot, at least not with just the rubber band and the pebble.  But there's a small forked sapling growing out of the rock. Hitting the fire alarm hard with a pebble sets it off, and the attendant flees.

The bridge to the pits has a bucket of floor wax sitting there for the taking.  We find Sordid in the next room, trying to get the lava pit lit again after it was put out by the sprinkler system.  We want this too, so we can destroy the turn-to-stone wand, but we need to use it to turn Sordid to stone first.  Now what?  Ah, I missed some matches on the visitor's desk -- while Simon is skeptical, it actually does work to throw a match into the pit, and then throw the wand in to destroy it.

The world is saved.. except for the small matter of Sordid's return to flesh after the wand is destroyed.  As Sordid is about to destroy Simon, Calypso phones in to tell Simon he's been revived, and to stall as long as possible while rescue efforts are organized, after claiming to be from a life insurance company to allay Sordid's suspicions.  Using the floor wax causes Sordid to fall into the lava, with a little completely justifiable push from Simon.


Simon is congratulated by an unctious host, refuses to participate in the sequel, and is nevertheless shortly dragged screaming into Simon the Sorcerer 2 by a giant mechanical hand.  Then the demons close things out with a little dance number.

I had a really good experience with Simon the Sorcerer, despite some obtuse puzzles and well-hidden but critical objects, and I look forward to playing AdventureSoft's sequels and other games as time permits.  The heyday of the point-and-click adventure produced a lot of great games, and I'm glad to say this is one of the better ones I never got around to playing back in the day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Sam & Max Ep. 106: Bright Side of the Moon (2007)

At last I'm getting around to the sixth and final episode of Telltale Games' first season of Sam & Max, with Episode 106: Bright Side of the Moon.

While the individual Season One episodes stand more or less alone, there is something of a story arc which comes to closure in this episode.  Telltale's later game seasons have never run more than five episodes, so this sixth chapter is something of an anomaly.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to play Sam & Max 106: Bright Side of the Moon for themselves before proceeding here.  It's still available for sale at Telltale Games, as well via Steam and other channels, and the entire season can often be picked up very reasonably on sale with a little patience.  These aren't difficult games -- they are meant to be entertaining, with as many punchlines as puzzles, and much of the pleasure to be had comes from discovering the story's surprises and gags on one's own.  That said, I'm here to document the history of adventure games, and this one's been out for more than five years as I write this, so I have no qualms about the ensuing...


The episode opens with President Max promoting global warming -- and urging everyone to contribute to its progress -- as Sam ponders the mystery left over from Episode 105: Who is the pseudonymous Roy G. Biv?  Sam has a convoluted theory about his identity, though no actual idea who it might be:

A call from the commissioner interrupts Sam's conspiracy theorizing with some confirmation that Hugh Bliss is likely the culprit, operating from his secret moonbase.  So we're off to the moon, as the opening credits end with the DeSoto simply taking off sans spacesuits, oxygen supplies, or any other sort of complicating sci-fi gewgawgery.  This is the world of Sam & Max, after all, and the moon even has a Visitor Center, manned by one Harry Moleman, former criminal mastermind, now reformed by Prismatology and working as a docent for the Park Service.

Further dialogue establishes that the Blister of Tranquility, our heroes' destination and Hugh Bliss' current hangout, lies to the... some mumbo-jumbo about enlightenment... something about a box over there.  The gift shop peddles Emetics t-shirts (Hugh Bliss' book mentioned earlier), Apollo 13 snow globes, and so forth.  An empty pedestal used to hold a prototype pair of Hypno-Goggles, stolen a few months ago.  A chart on the wall outlines Hugh Bliss' plan for world conquest, which ties together the disparate threads of the season so far; reading it earlier could have saved our heroes a good deal of trouble along the way, as Max notes.  Another pedestal contains a spoon-bending talisman, that is, a bent spoon sealed in a supposedly impenetrable container; Sam can readily pocket this item, but Harry frisks him and returns it to its proper place as soon as we try to leave the area.

The Lunar Lander parked near the Visitor Center has a small door on the side, but the keys are locked inside; a rocket engine is accessible underneath the lander.  A flag planted nearby somehow waves in the wind.

Agent Superball is here, serving as doorman for the Blister of Tranquility, a cheesy-looking magician's cabinet.  If the hints earlier in the season weren't clear, it's pretty clear now that Prismatology is a Scientology satire, with Hugh Bliss playing the L. Ron Hubbard role; Superball says that only Level Red Prismatologists can enter the Blister, and Spectrum Analysis is required to determine each individual's level.  Said analysis consists of rubbing a small toy unicorn to see what color its horn turns; Sam asks if it works like a mood ring, triggered by body heat, but Superball claims it really works, by... magic.  He won't let us in until we can demonstrate Level Red capability using the mood horn... or fake it, we presume.

A bulletin board to the right of the Blister of Tranquility contains a number of lunar gags, but no apparent clues at the moment.

So what can we do here?  We have nothing in inventory but our trusty handgun and the Prismatology unicorn.  Fortunately, we can fly back to the office at any time and explore the neighborhood, so it's probably time to do that.

The C.O.P.S. from Episode 105 have abandoned Lefty's, so the old hardware store is abandoned again.  Sybil has switched jobs yet again, to become... the Queen of Canada?  This provides Sam and Max opportunities for gratuitious Canada jokes, and we also learn that Sybil is tasked with finding something big to really put Canada on the map.  Something beyond the country's new slogan, "Canada: It's Surprisingly Pleasant!"

The office is pretty much as usual, with some updated gags.  The answering machine's first message is for Jimmy Two-Teeth, resident rat, from "Researches & Developments," to report that they have nothing that will get rid of a dog and bunny "real quick-like" and his best bet is to rig the answering machine to "shock 'em when they's played the third message."  The third message is Jimmy doing a not-really-even-there Sybil impersonation, suggesting that she is "preggo's" and Sam is responsible; not the sort of shock Jimmy's advisers intended, apparently.  The closet now contains the Virtual Reality goggles from the previous episode, in addition to the items accumulated earlier in the season.

Bosco is at the convenience store as usual, and in disguise again, this time as his own mother:

 "Her" "son" has created an "Earthquake Maker," likely yet another extravagantly-billed (in both senses of the word) Bosco-Tech gadget that sounds more impressive than it is, priced at a hundred trillion dollars.  Sam asks why the prices keep going up, and Bosco quite correctly points out that we've been happily paying whatever outrageous price he gives us in every episode so far.  "She" also has a number of items that would have saved a lot of trouble in episodes 101 through 105, but it's too late for those to be of use, of course.

So we've explored a bit, checked out home base, and now it's time to get down to some puzzle solving.  Sam can get the spoon-bending trinket out of the Visitor Center by tossing it to Max, who hides it in his voluminous mouth, or points south we don't want to think about.  Now what do we do with it?  He won't cough it up on command, so presumably an opportunity will arise later.

We can put the unicorn in Bosco's microwave to heat it up, turning the horn red, and gain entrance to the Blister of Tranquility, which is sort of a New Age theme park:

Many characters from earlier in the season are hanging out here, basking in the warmth of Bliss' disembodied holographic head -- Abraham Lincoln's head, the C.O.P.S., Sam & Max's pet fish Mr. Spatula (with the water cooler), Mr. Featherly (actor/chicken Philo Pennyworth), and the "bug" we used to bring down the Toy Mafia.

Lincoln is studying Prismatology -- he is mastering the art of Gastro-Kinesis, the ability to make people throw up with his mind.  He can teach it to our favorite freelance police officers, but he has swallowed the associated talisman, and it seems we will need to get it out somehow, but he hasn't thrown up since he was nervous about giving the Gettysburg Address.  He is pining for Sybil, whom he sees as his one chance for true love.  Asked how a head can find true love without the usual accoutrements, Abraham Lincoln points out that Sam and Max obviously never read Cosmo.  (This episode in general features a little more "adult" humor than the previous chapters, and more than most Telltale Games -- it feels a little out of place in the cartoon universe of Sam & Max.)

We can get Lincoln to phone Sybil, and give him some friendly advice to help steer the conversation along.  "I got needs, baby!" is not very successful, nor is, "I'm issuing a Romancipation Proclamation."  The key seems to be that Sybil knows Abe doesn't really know her when he feeds her corny lines; asking her to "Relax, Baby" ties into her shop's mantra and gains a little bit of a foothold.  Calling her a "stone cold fox" also plays well, as she loves foxes (which we suspect based on the stuffed fox in her office.)  The last thread of the conversation concerns what Sybil and Lincoln might do on a date -- psychotherapy bores her now, as do alien love triangles and tattoos, but mentioning "one-on-one love hockey" garners the Queen's interest.  She agrees to the date, and a nervous Lincoln panics and, erm, yields the talisman.  One puzzle down.

The C.O.P.S. are here also, seeking to see within themselves and create a new videogame surpassing Reality 2.0.  They have a talisman too, which we can win by beating Bluster Blaster at a round of Tic Tac Doom -- which isn't too hard to do as it turns out, he plays pretty randomly:

But the C.O.P.S. are reluctant to give up their talisman, as the AI so obviously needs improvement.  Aha!  Yep, that's the ticket -- we have to play so as to force the machine to win, which is more difficult than it sounds, and now we have the seeing-within-oneself talisman, a giant eyeball that can see through lead.  It's not yet clear what we're going to do with these, but we have three in inventory and at least one more to obtain.

Philo Pennyworth, TV's Mr. Featherly from Midtown Cowboys in Episode 102, is also here; the show has been cancelled and his career is in tatters.  He's trying to learn how to do magic to broaden his appeal, by pulling a rat out of a hat -- the rat in question is Jimmy Two-Teeth, still clinging to the parking meter he is perched on back home.  So it looks like dislodging him will be a necessary step here.

There's also a rollercoaster in the room -- pressing a button sends it around the track, so we will probably be putting it to some purpose later on.  We can also hop in and take a ride, but it doesn't appear we can do anything different while the ride is in motion.

We can also take the central Rainbow Elevator up to Hugh Bliss' inner sanctum, where an Intimidating Door conveniently made of lead blocks further progress.  The eyeball talisman allows us to see into the room, where a bowling ball is suspended in a sconce, above a red Open button.  We can use the gastro-kinesis talisman to get Max to cough up the spoon-bending talisman, but we can't make use of it until we get it out of its display case.

Back to the neighborhood we go, to see if we can get Jimmy Two-Teeth's claws off the bent parking meter, and harass Sybil.  She isn't willing to talk about her upcoming date with Lincoln, so no opportunities suggest themselves there.  We can't melt the spoon-bender's display case in Bosco's microwave, though Sam says it's not hot enough and heat is not on the list of things it's impervious to, so we probably want to rev up the lunar lander's rocket engine.

Can we raise the money to buy Bosco's earthquake maker thingie?  Max mentions he fed Leonard (from episode 103, still tied up in the office closet) the "Deed to the United States of America" earlier; that sounds pretty valuable.  Getting him to cough up the deed is easy -- but Bosco says cash is preferred, since we can't come up with the blue book value on the deed.  Sybil only offers three hundred dollars, or three hundred and five if we throw in Puerto Rico, which isn't going to do it.  Lincoln doesn't offer anything, nor does anyone else seem interested in it.

We can take the coat hanger from the TV in Sam & Max's office to break into the lunar lander on the moon; we can't actually go very far in it after taking off, but we can put the display case under the engine and melt it open.  And now we can use it on the parking meter occupied by Jimmy Two-Teeth to unbend it, throwing him off into the distance and letting him be pulled from Mr. Featherly Pennyworth's dimensional portal magician's hat.  Disgusted by his contact with such vile vermin, Pennyworth asks Sam to remove the hat from his presence, so now we have a handy rat-producing device, for some purpose as yet undetermined.

We can also use the talisman to bend the giant spork in one of the Hugh Bliss' statue's hands to put it in the path of the rollercoaster... almost, it's not clear what good this does yet.  We can also use it to bend the sconce in Bliss' inner sanctum, entering just in time to see him launch his hypnobeam attack on every citizen of Earth:

He suggests an earthquake would disrupt his plan, but not before he separates out Max's vices -- his stomach (gluttony), tail (sloth) and gun hand (murder) are removed and sent their separate ways with ersatz Max bodies, leaving Max's natural violent tendencies dormant as he is filled with peace and harmony.  This is a classic "Nooooooo!" moment for Sam, so we will have to do something about it.  We can see the Blister of Tranquility through a viewscreen, but the colorful crystal control panels don't seem to be functional.

Max's gun-toting doppelganger is running rampant in the Blister.  We can use the bent spork to intercept his ride -- if we can start the rollercoaster; Sam has to shoot the button with his gun, as gunfire makes it impossible to do manually.  This severs Max's gun hand and restores it to his body, as the demonic Max vanishes.

The tail-Max is lying on the ground on the surface of the moon, by the bulletin board, draining the energy from everyone around him with his force of ennui.  He's too heavy to lift and he won't give the tail back voluntarily.  While Harry is feeling down, we can explore the gift shop more freely, but there isn't anything useful in the cash register.  It seems we will need something major to move Blue Max, like maybe an earthquake.

Back on earth, everyone is feeling Bliss-fully happy, so Sybil agrees to pay one hundred trillion (Canadian) dollars (new bills with Celine Dion's picture on them) for the deed to the United States.  Green stomach-Max is eating everything in sight at Bosco's.  The earthquake maker ties into Bosco's satellite defense system -- we can use it on the moon to disrupt Blue Max presumably.  What to do about Green Max while we're here, though?  We can't get him to upchuck the stomach itself, and while he can swallow Sam and Max, we can't do anything other than get ourselves out of there.

Let's go deal with Blue Max -- the earthquake maker is really just a way to get the satellite to crash onto the surface of the moon, but it flips him over so we can reclaim Max's tail.  Now back to the stomach challenge, which we could probably have solved earlier -- we can feed Jimmy Two-Teeth to Green Max via the magician's hat... and then force him back up.  He says, "Darn! Next time I'm hangin' on tighter", which seems promising -- can we pull him and the stomach out through the hat?  Yep -- and now Max is whole again and ready to take on Hugh Bliss, and we don't have any obvious puzzles left to solve, so it's probably time to wrap this season up.

Max jumps into the crystal, displacing Hugh Bliss, who is -- shock and horror! -- revealed to be a spacefaring colony of sentient bacteria:

But he can probably be killed like anything else Sam & Max have encountered in their many adventures.  Unfortunately, he ties Sam to a rotating wheel of death, a.k.a. Emetics: The Ride.  There's a Hugh Bliss talisman on a sconce high above, and we can use the spoon-bending talisman to release it -- right into Sam's hand, as our good luck would have it.  Using it lets us swap places, leaving Hugh Bliss spinning on the Wheel of Death.  But he transforms into bacteria and escapes, putting Sam into a magician's cutting-the-victim-in-half box as he prepares to separate Sam's bliss.

We can swap with Bliss again, but sawing doesn't seem likely to do much to him.  We can cut his head off and at least get him to move on to his next "trick."  He puts Sam in the lunar lander, as the "Ticket To Oblivion," and blasts him into space.  Another swap, and Sam is in the Cleansing Bath of Annihilation, where he is likely to drown.  We swap, and bacteria-Bliss stays in the tank.  So this must be the final part of the act.

Trying to shoot at the water tank and spill Bliss all over the room doesn't work -- we're back at the Wheel of Death for another try at figuring this out.  We can use the saw to saw a leg off the lunar lander, eliminating that as a mechanism for Sam's demise -- hmmmm.  Maybe we can use this saw for some other things now... no, but we can use the lunar lander in its tipped-over position to boil the water tank and destroy Hugh Bliss!

Our heroes are victorious, though there remains the little matter of knocking everyone on earth around to shake them out of their hypno-beam happiness.  It's a cause for celebration, not least of our dog and rabbity-thing duo's friendship:

And the credits roll as Sam & Max Season One (a.k.a. Sam & Max Save the World) wraps up, with vignettes of Max punching out just about everybody we've met during the season, to the mellow, jazzy closing tune called World of Max.

This was the first Telltale Games season that came to complete fruition, following the aborted Bone series which wasn't planned as a formal season and ultimately only saw two games released;.  The return of Sam & Max established the company as a torchbearer for the Lucasarts style, not least by featuring Steve Purcell's popular and quirky characters and treating them with respect.  Humor has always worked well in adventure games, and works quite well in this first of three seasons Telltale has produced to date.  Good stuff for fans of the classic point-and-click adventure era, and fans of Sam & Max.  I will continue to tackle the Telltale Games adventures, but I should probably go back and play the Lucasarts Sam & Max Hit the Road before I go on to Season Two of the newer games.

Next week, most likely, will feature something old and texty again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

At Random: Gradius (NES, 1986)

I've already written about Konami's Gradius at some length in its Japanese PC Engine incarnation, but as luck would have it my latest random pick came up with the 1986 version for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  So I'm going to give it a very quick look here and get it off of my to-play pile.

The coin-op game actually existed in two different versions -- a stand-alone cabinet on more powerful hardware, and a VS. System presentation of the 8-bit NES version.  The NES version uses the standard arcade-style font that was so cool when the NES was new, while the coin-op and later versions used a more stylized sci-fi font.  The game is technically simplified but still manages to pull off a credible rendition of the arcade game, and this home edition is probably better known to most gamers than any of the other versions.

What Gradius did better than most 8-bit shooters was its risk-and-reward power-up system -- the player has to decide how to deploy the generic power-ups picked up along the way; waiting produces more powerful weapons, generally, but it's always tempting to use them up by activating a lower-powered option earlier.  Of course, there are always the traditional Konami cheat codes, which can provide all the available features and makes the early going quite a bit easier.

The NES sprite hardware wasn't quite up to the arcade or PC Engine versions' power -- this volcano sequence is kind of underwhelming, as sparse flying rocks don't put the player's Vic Viper in too much danger:

The bosses are also downsized a bit -- the first level leaves the background behind to enter a general void of space, and the boss is smaller than it really ought to be:

And the standard Gradius series Moai heads suffer a little bit of color definition loss, along with some slowdown and flicker when the action gets a little too heavy:

I didn't actually get much farther than this on a quick go; it's still challenging with an addictive one-more-time quality, and it's still one of the major NES titles and the first of a long-running classic series of 2-D shooters.  But given the availability of more impressive and playable versions on other platforms, the NES version is the most accessible but not the best rendition of Gradius out there.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

At Random: Bible Adventures (NES, 1991)

I've touched on Wisdom Tree's Bible Adventures in a video podcast a few years back, but I haven't written about it in any detail, so I was glad to see it come up as my latest random pick.  Color Dreams was an American pioneer of unlicensed NES gaming, publishing their own titles as well as those of the Christian publisher Wisdom Tree; both lines featured Color Dreams' distinctive blue plastic cartridges.  The Wisdom Tree games found a ready audience -- even though they were not distributed through official Nintendo channels, Christian families seemed to find them somehow. 

Wisdom Tree disappeared after a few forays into the 16-bit systems, as development costs rose and technical licensing barriers became harder to work around, but they kept selling these NES games long after the console was commercially dead.  Hundreds of thousands of copies were reportedly sold, and these games turn up fairly readily today.  Bible Adventures was published in 1991, toward the end of the NES' life cycle, and it presents a three-in-one gaming experience derived from the Torah / Old Testament:

All three of these games are similar platform adventures, using the same engine, which attempt to present popular Biblical stories in a more action-oriented format.  The games aren't great, and the in-game music is awful, devoting a single voice to a repetitive series of low-pitched beeps and bloops.  But there's more content crammed into this cartridge than I would have expected.

Noah's Ark challenges the player, as Noah, to collect two of a limited number of species and deliver them to the ark's loading door.  There's no time limit -- the only threat comes from a few notably hostile animals.  Coconut-throwing monkeys and poisonous snakes do Noah damage, which he can repair by picking up the Ten Commandments-style stone tablets scattered around the area; each presents a short bible verse or a game hint in the process.  Fortunately these animals are fairly portable, so Noah has no problem picking up a horse and delivering it to the ark (the horse's head is invisible in this screenshot due to sprite flicker):

The animals do have some different characteristics to liven up the simple action -- pigs are slippery and must be distracted with food, monkeys hop around quickly and are tricky to catch, and the cows and oxen are heavy and must be lifted up one tier at a time.  The game keeps track of Noah's progress with a handy checklist that pays little attention to the Bible's version of Noah's orders -- we only have one pair each of six species to track down (and I certainly hope one of those cows is male!):

The only really difficult bit is acquiring the snakes -- there are snakes crawling up and down trees in the woods, but these snakes are poisonous and simply damage Noah when he tries to pick them up.  A granite section to the left of the Ark can be accessed by careful jumping through the treetops, and here we find a small population of side-perspective snakes that can be grabbed in the standard fashion.  The last one resides at the very top of the granite mountain, and getting up there is a bit of a challenge.

I thought that we would be done after Noah confirms his inventory, but there's actually a second level, featuring more exotic livestock (like Racoons [sic]!):

The (American Bald) eagles are particularly troublesome, as they tend to pick Noah up and fly him off to random areas of the screen.  It was time to move on to see what Baby Moses is all about:

This one is nearly impossible for my aging reflexes to handle -- as Moses' Levite bio-mom in a sort-of prequel to the published story of Moses, we have to pick up Baby Moses and carry him through a dangerous pyramid obstacle course to deliver him to his wicker basket and destiny.  But the poor woman has no offensive capabilities, while enemy spiders and spear-carrying warriors have plenty.  Worse, if she gets knocked into the river Nile, she is instantly dead, and if any of the Egyptian enemies get hold of the baby, they toss him offscreen and she has to go all the way back to the beginning of the level to recover him.  It's meant to be a challenging platforming exercise, but it becomes a frustrating, repetitive chore long before it starts being fun.

Bible Adventures' third game, David and Goliath, reuses the Noah's Ark concept as David the shepherd must round up four sheep and deliver them to their pen, while avoiding attack by dangerous nut-flinging squirrels and squirrel-sized lions (who are often found sleeping, a-Wim-o-weh style):

Rounding up all four sheep earns the opportunity to... round up some more sheep in a more mountainous vertically-oriented layout, where angry rams head-butt David around and make it very difficult to pick up the sheep.  I suppose this is meant to be toughening him up for the battle against Goliath, someday, and that famous confrontation is reportedly included here a few levels down the road, but I didn't get anywhere close to picking up his stone sling.

Bible Adventures delivers what it promised -- some wholesome Bible adventures on the NES, and all of the games are substantial and relatively non-violent (at least, all of the cartoon violence is directed at our heroes.)  There are much better 8-bit platformers out there, but as Color Dreams and Wisdom Tree games go, this is one of the better ones and I imagine most purchasers felt they got their money's worth out of it.