Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Putt-Putt Joins The Parade (1992)

I've always meant to sample the children's adventures created by Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, The Cave) during his post-Lucasarts years at his own company, Humongous Entertainment.  The company's first published game launched a long-running series --aimed at children 3-8, Putt-Putt Joins The Parade stars an anthropomorphic young convertible named Putt-Putt and was the first of the company's Junior Adventures line.  I'm playing the game on a Windows PC using the ScummVM interpreter.

Gilbert licensed the SCUMM engine he helped create from Lucasarts, and it's interesting to see the same toolset put to use for a younger audience.  Putt-Putt Joins the Parade is a true adventure game, with puzzles and inventory, but it also provides plenty of simple interactive fun for kids.  Almost everything in the world is clickable -- many objects just produce a little sound or animation and have no role in the story; there are puzzles and other activities that don't have to be solved or completed; and some interaction is handled semi-automatically to keep the interface simple.  For instance, in the opening scene, clicking on the box of Tire-O's fills Putt-Putt's breakfast bowl immediately, and many of these actions can be repeated just for entertainment's sake.

The animation is full-blown cartoon style, colorful and fluid in 320 x 200 VGA, and if you're wondering how an automobile functions as an adventure game protagonist, Putt-Putt has a little arm that emerges from his trunk to manipulate objects.  The game also features a MIDI-based score and full voice-over acting, with optional on-screen text.  To aid pre-readers, Putt-Putt will read any signs encountered out loud, and characters are happy to repeat instructions and plot points.  Trying to use objects where they don't work produces a generic "That doesn't seem to work" response, probably to minimize confusion and red herrings for the younger set, and clicking on Putt-Putt himself usually reminds us what's going on -- "Maybe I'll go downtown and talk to Smokey."

I always encourage interested readers to sample the games I write about here before reading my playthrough notes; these games were fairly popular and I often run across them in thrift stores, and some of them have been ported to the iPhone in recent times.  But as Putt-Putt Joins The Parade is not exactly a challenging game, I understand completely if you simply want to sate your curiosity by proceeding into the...

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

Putt-Putt was created by Humongous Entertainment co-founder Shelley Day, but as the sun rises, it looks suspiciously like Ron Gilbert:

The setup involves a Pet Parade happening today in Cartown, which we learn about (automatically) on Putt-Putt's car radio.  But Putt-Putt doesn't have a pet, so that will probably be a project.

First our hero has to get ready to go, brushing his teeth and eating some Tire-O's cereal (with oil instead of milk, naturally.)  There's a frog hidden behind the curtains of Putt-Putt's garage home, and a fly buzzing around; we can open the curtains and click on the frog to get him to consume the buzzing fly, but all of this is completely optional.  The car radio will play a little jingle promoting Toothpaste -- no brand, just the concept, which fits Putt-Putt's intentionally old-fashioned universe.

The design is full of little animations that don't advance the story -- the weathervane arrow on top of the garage can be made to zoom wildly around the screen like a rocket, apples on a tree have individual animations as they bounce or rocket or turn into juice boxes before disappearing into a barrel on the other side of the road, flowers kiss, fish leap, and caterpillars cocoon and turn into butterflies.

The first real puzzle involves an obstructive cow in the middle of the road on the way to Cartown.  All we have to do is honk Putt-Putt's horn to get her out of the way.

Smokey the Fire Engine (somehow that name seems untrustworthy in a fire prevention official) informs Putt-Putt that he'll need a carwash before he can join the parade, and he'll need to bring a balloon and a pet (Putt-Putt has a puppy in mind.)  To raise money to get himself washed, it's suggested that Putt-Putt can mow lawns and deliver groceries for Mr. Baldini.  Smokey loans Putt-Putt his lawnmower and tells him lawn work is probably available on Red Street.

Exploring town a little bit, Putt-Putt suspects that the Cartown Toy Store may have a balloon for sale, but the Irish-accented proprietress says she sold the last one to Mrs. Airbag, who has taken her infant Baby Beep to the drive-in movie.  Lots of the toys in stock can be played with for optional entertainment, including four riddle-telling animal puppets.  There's also one of those mix-and-match tile puzzles, with a fanfare when an entire picture is correctly assembled:

We can mess around with a pachinko-style pin ball game that can be rearranged for fun.  Putt-Putt can also recover his lost magnet and place it into inventory.  The toy store's window features a toy monkey band that plays and goofs around, and a mouse can be tempted out of his hole with gumballs from the machine, yielding several different short and funny animations.

Mr. Baldini's grocery store has free birdseed out front, of which Putt-Putt happily avails himself.  Some groceries need to be delivered to Tami Torpedo at number 3 Green Street.  A few birds are blocking the way to the customer, but Putt-Putt's horn comes in handy (the bird seed also works here, a kid-friendly design that allows multiple solutions but avoids frustration if that detail has been missed.)  The British blue car at #4 doesn't need his lawn mowed, nor do the neighbors at #2 or #1, but Putt-Putt earns a coin for his delivery trouble at #3.  The lawn in front of #2 features a robot that tells time based on the system clock, a neat little touch.

There are nails strewn across the road leading to Red Street -- odd in a town where all the inhabitants are cars, but maybe this is a bad neighborhood.  Putt-Putt can clear them up with his magnet.  Lawn mowing consists of a mini-game where we must traverse all the unmown squares on a grid, and we'll discover a useful inventory item in the process -- a bone which is likely to come in handy.  We also earn a coin for each completed lawn, collecting four cents from the lawnmowing ordinance scofflaws on Red Street.

Cartown Gas & Tires offers windshield washing equipment and (apparently free) gasoline.  The Car Wash only requires two coins, and as Putt-Putt has never had a carwash before (eww!) we have to figure out how the "shower" works.  There are four steps with point-and-click triggers -- soap, rinse, scrub, and dry -- before Putt-Putt is all clean and can get back on the road.

We can do a few more grocery delivery jobs, taking some to #3 Red Street and #1 Blue Street.  Some marching band mice are blocking the entrance to Blue Street -- the horn yields only a snippy "Beep beep yourself!" but turning on Putt-Putt's radio gets them marching right offscreen.  4 more lawns can be mown here for another four pennies in the glove compartment.  (We only needed the two cents for the car wash, really, but extra money can be spent to change Putt-Putt's color at the paint shop in town.)

A dark cave to the east outside of town contains a frightened puppy, who will happily jump into inventory for a bone.  Putt-Putt decides to name him Pep (as opposed to Manny, Moe, or Jack, I suppose.)

No comment is made about the irresponsible pet owners who abandoned this poor little dog in a scary cave, but Cartown is apparently rife with such people, as we learn when we visit the movies, where a distraught Mrs. Airbag has lost Baby Beep inside the darkened theatre.  She hands Putt-Putt a photo to use in identifying the lost child, making one wonder if this otherwise well-prepared mother is up to something nefarious, especially because the theatre is actually well-lit.  It's a simple matter of color and shape matching to identify Baby Beep, earning Mrs. Airbag's balloon for helping her escape the wrath of Cartown Social Services.

Now, without much ado after all, Putt-Putt Joins The Parade!  The story wraps up quickly with an interactive, highly clickable survey of all the cars and their pets, after which everyone rides off into the Ronset.

We see a brief preview (just a logo and character animation) for Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise, another early Humongous Entertainment release, before the credits roll.

This first entry in the Putt-Putt series is charming -- very simple as adventure games go, and just a few hours' worth of gameplay even with note-taking and screen-capturing.  But the game has a lively sense of kid-friendly fun and humor, coupled with quality animation and storytelling.  I enjoyed this little adventure, and I'll have to check out some of the other Humongous Entertainment series when I have a chance.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free! (2008)

This week, we're tackling the second episode of Telltale Game's 2008 series based on the Homestar Runner universe created by the Brothers Chapman.  This time around, in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free!, our masked hero and frequent emailer Strong Bad is placed under house arrest for flouting the King of Town's email tax -- one Creamy Ding Snack Cake for every email sent.  In response he launches a revolution against the "---- of Town" (refusing to recognize or utter the royal title.)  I'm playing the PC version here.

Telltale's licensed adventure game series have done an impressively consistent job of honoring the source material, and this one does the Homestar Runner universe justice, in part because Mike and Matt Chapman were heavily involved in the writing, with Matt voicing most of the characters as he has always done.

If you want to fully experience the joys of Strong Badia the Free! (if it fits your sense of humor it's a very funny game, and much of the pleasure comes from its dialogue) I strongly advise playing this game before proceeding with my playthrough notes below.  The series is still commercially available at Telltale Games' site and via Steam, as well as on the Nintendo Wii download store.  As always in this feature, I'll be discussing my playthrough experience in significant detail for the sake of historical documentation.  That is, there are bound to be...

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

As "the worst day in the whimsical history of wrongful imprisonment" gets underway, most of the rest of the cast is outside protesting the situation.  Strong Bad is a political prisoner trapped in the House of Strong, and the King even ate Strong Bad's trusty map used for navigating the landscape in the previous episode, so we're really starting from scratch.

We can enter Strong Sad's room in this game, unlike the previous epsiode, acquiring a red towel in the bathroom.  Strong Sad sympathizes, but can't be talked into aiding and abetting an escape -- though he does suggest shorting out the invisible fence's transformer before thinking better of it.

We can acquire a costume eye-patch from the box of Cheats Commandos-Os in the kitchen, for use in the photo booth, and a cardboard fast-food restaurant crown (methinks a King of Town disguise is in the works here.)  The Tarantula Black metal detector returns from the first episode, now with a built-in shovel attachment, so we won't have to track down a digging implement separately as in Episode 1.

The Fun Machine in Strong Bad's room hosts the educational video game Math Kickers --Featuring The AlgeBros, a Double Dragon-style arcade game where the brothers must add or subtract to match the number of attacking ninjas on either side, and then beat up a more complex equation to solve for X (requiring a series of button presses but no real understanding of the algebraic processes at hand -- an exaggerated but credible dig at vintage educational software.)

There's an overstuffed "big fat pillow" in the basement, and a pair of garish costume pants in the dryer.  The Trogdor arcade game cabinet is still broken, and the TV is only receiving the History Unleashed Channel, but we can gather some loose stuffing from a leak in the couch.

It seems like we've done most of what can be done in the house, but trying to leave the premises triggers Strong Bad's house-arrest exploding collar, knocking him back into the house with a serious but not fatal case of charhead.

Can we dress up as the King of Town and sneak out?  The collar will still be in effect.  What else?  The assembled protesters outside have placed a rather basic and unevocative effigy of the -OT near the exploding gates.  By tossing the pillow, fluff, towel and crown down, with a little assembly help from The Cheat, we can incite the protestors to burn the King of Town in effigy and take out the invisible fence along with it.

Now Strong Bad can rally his friends to the cause, as he gives a rousing speech and declares Strong Badia (the small plot of land occupied by a flag and an old tire) an independent nation -- but by the time he finishes his crowd has dispersed, each rebelling to establish his or her own country.

There's a Maps & Minions game board on the ground, which we can use to plot a course to world domination, passing through the "countries" established by other characters -- Bubs likely rules Concession-Stan, and The Cheat has absconded with the old tire to establish his own secessionist territory within Strong Badia, entitled, erm, The Cheat and Tirerea (Strong Bad: "You might want to rethink that one.")

Even the local landmarks are getting in on the act -- the Cool Car flies the flag of Hatchbackistan, the Photo Booth is SnapShakLand, the fence has organized itself under the banner of the Back Fence Revolutionaries.  Page 3 of the Math Kicker/AlgeBros manual is under a box out here; we don't really need to master the game, except for bonus points, but if we want to we will need to collect these pages to discover special fighting moves.

Local entrepreneur Bubs is running Concession-Stantinople, and conversation establishes that certain goods are available only on the "Black Market" -- that is, right around back of the concession stand.  But Bubs has no weapons or human organs in stock, and will only trade his illegally recovered artifact for something of value.

Bleak House is Strong Sad's nation, based in his room at the House of Strong.  The cover of the Math Kickers manual is in the mailbox, and there's a toy airline souvenir medal hidden under a cardboard box.  Strong Sad has been hard at work writing the Constitution and Bill of Rights for his Constitutional monarchy.  We can snag his roleplaying sword ("never before have duct tape and PVC pipe forged so mighty a weapon!") as well as a souvenir inaugural flag (producing 2000 of which consumed Strong Sad's entire life savings.)  We can also find a "tar pit" idea card for a Teen Girl Squad comic -- another optional activity in which we must pick the right props and concepts for each panel to ensure maximum carnage.

Pom-PomErania is based inside Pom Pom's Club Technochocolate, where Bubs tends bar and is totally not embezzling money from the club.  To impress Pom Pom into joining his empire, Strong Bad has to be seen with the right drink and impress the Shogun (Pom Pom) with his dancing.  The Bull Honkey energy drink definitely doesn't impress, nor does the outdated glowy green bottle; the Cold Ones Stout ("ten pounds of wheat in every bottle!") doesn't visibly arouse Pom Pom's ire, at least, but isn't impressive either.

Page 4 of the Math Kickers manual is under a box at the end of the bar, revealing the mysterious Divide by Zero move.  Strong Bad can also acquire a glowstick from the DJ booth, which may come in handy.  Moving to the dance floor suggests (courtesy of Bubs, as Pom-Pom's bubbles don't make for intelligible speech) that Strong Bad looks "too empty-handed" -- venturing out with a Cold One Stout in hand solves that problem, but our hero's moves are still not fresh enough.

Giving the TPA (I like to think this stands for Trans Port Airlines but it isn't spelled out) souvenir pilot wings pin to The Cheat reunites The Cheat and Tirerea with Strong Badia proper, and recovers Strong Bad's lighter.  We can also swap Strong Sad's fake sword for the sharp samurai sword hanging in Pom Pom's club.

The lighter is diplomatically useful, that is to say, burning Strong Sad's documents and flag disappoints him, but he is now willing to have his throne usurped by Strong Badia.  (As a possibly unintended but very funny visual, if we ask Strong Sad about his nation after burning these documents, closeups of the now-empty tabletop are shown as he proudly describes them.)  Conquering Bleak House also opens the path to the Homsar Reservation.

Is Bubs interested in the samurai sword for his black market business?  Checking in at the legal side of the Concession Stand allows us to buy a defective toy Strong Bad at half price, using quesos (Bubs accepts all the local nations' currencies.)  But Bubs isn't interested in the sword, as he recognizes it as Pom Pom's.  We can use the metal detector to dig up an old power strip in the Strong Badia plot, a tuning fork and Strong Bad's grandfather's old military medals, and yet another cardboard box conceals the Logarithm Attack page from Math Kickers.

Homsar is as unintelligible as always, but there's a mysterious pylon on the reservation with colored crystals and a "suspiciously obvious hole in the top."  Strong Sad is also here, whining about why we can't just go around the Homsar Reservation, but he has his trunk with him which may prove valuable.  A cave painting provides workspace for a prehistorically-themed Teen Girl Squad episode; the deeper cave is blocked by stones, but the mysterious floating and moving boulders near Homsar suggest he can clear the way if we can get through to him somehow.  Strong Sad has a thermometer in his first aid kit, but any time we approach he uses it to take his own temperature, monitoring his health for good measure while we are in foreign lands.

We can put the tuning fork and power strip into the pylon -- now two of the four colored crystals are glowing, and we can understand part of what Homsar is saying.  The metal detector helps us find a three-ring binder, lighting a third crystal.  There's a hint available here if we're having trouble finding these items, but in my playthrough we had already hunted up the three artifacts depicted in a cave painting near the pylon, finding these artifats near the Stick, the cinder block in Strong Badia, and Strong Bad's mailbox.

Strong Sad is clearly concerned about his health.  We can't substitute the glowstick for his thermometer, but conversation establishes that a high temperature, uncontrollable shaking and difficulty understanding language are symptoms of acute aphasic pretendicitis, requiring removal of the prentendix, which would give us a human organ to trade to Bubs for what is likely the last remaining Homsar artifact we need.   Yep -- heating the thermometer up with the lighter, putting the toy Strong Bad in Strong Sad's fanny pack, and conversing nonsencially with Homsar convinces Strong Sad he really is sick (not that that's very difficult.)  Fortunately, the Homsar Reservation has subsidized health care, and Strong Sad shortly returns with his pretendix in a jar, which Strong Bad can grab for "safe keeping" and trade to Bubs for the final artifact, a pottery shard.

Conversation with Homsar after fully enabling the translation pylon establishes that Strong Bad is the prophesied young boy yadda yadda, and now Homsar's people are aligned and we can access Marzistar or Homezipan, depending on whom one is asking, the nation in Marzipan's back yard.  We can hunt up another Math Kickers manual page and the Marzistar souvenir flag, but the main event here looks to be filling the Strong Badia slot in Marzipan's Model UN display with something representative of Strong Badia.

Strong Bad keeps hinting about Pom-Pomerania when we wander around aimlessly too much, so let's see if we can finish things up there.  Putting the glow stick in the Cold One Stout isn't helpful -- it's too thick for the light to shine out -- but putting a glow stick in the already glowing green drink blinds Pom-Pom to the point that cool dance moves are not even required to make a positive impression.  Another nation brought into the fold!

Now we can get to big/strong/none-too-bright older brother Strong Mad's country, elegantly named "Country," and attempt to enlist his help.  Strong Bad must prove he is a mighty warrior by battling the Taranchula, that is, a stolen heavy metal concert standee with taped on heads supposedly breathing fire breath and ice breath, blocking the bridge to the lands beyond.  We can use the samurai sword to cut the cardboard beast's heads off (as Strong Mad hilariously uses a ketchup bottle to simulate spurting blood from the neck), but the heads regrow!  This is largely a physical timing puzzle -- we can use the samurai sword to cut off the ice head, and while Strong Mad is repairing it, knock the fire head into the river below so it can't regrow.  Similarly, we must light the stack of papier mache skulls standing nearby for visual effect on fire and then knock the ice head into the fire.  Now Strong Mad is on board as well.

We still have to deal with Marzistan before we can proceed to the Of Town's castle.  Marzipan is resolutely peaceful, but Homestar can be talked into calling a Peace Draft for the Homestarmy.  The UN display functions as a spin-the-wheel draft picker, but even with Strong Mad's heavy friend Tony Stony slotted into the Strong Badia slot, the wheel always picks Homestar himself.  We need to shift the "balance of power" somehow to draft a fifth soldier -- Coach Z is on the wheel, and placing the stone in the right slot adds him to the assembled forces.  The battle is on!

.... And doesn't last long.  Even though a few of Strong Bad's allies desert him in his hour of military need, The King of Town surrenders in about five minutes, and now Strong Bad finds himself stuck with the throne.  But what is this?  Sent email history discovered on the King's Snacky 186 computer reveal that this was all an elaborate plot to get Strong Bad to take over the kingdom!  The floppy disks nearby contain recipes suggested by Peasant's Quest (the P. Quest on the disks that I mistook for a Police Quest reference in Episode 1.)

There's a Deluxe Maps & Minions board in the castle which Strong Bad can use to command his troops.  The King of Town also uses email templates, one of which we can use to impose an outrageous tax on Creamy Ding Snack Cakes and arouse his ire against King Strong Bad, sparking a counter-revolution. 

As it turns out, by turning the game board around, Strong Bad can command the other side's forces, as we play a proper round of Maps & Minions to restore the King of Town to his throne.  We can neutralize Strong Sad's depressing conversation by blocking him with Homsar, and Strong Mad's might can be balanced by his good friend The Cheat.  But if Homestar confronts the King directly, all is lost, so we must keep those two separated.  The Poopsmith leaves an odorous cloud behind him, which we can use to conceal the King's whereabouts for a move -- all we really have to do is get the King one move ahead of Homestar and keep a route clear so he can get back to the castle.

Victory is the King's, which mean it's really Strong Bad's, that is, ours!

The Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People episodes are pretty solid across the board, and like a lot of Telltale series it seems to hit its stride more confidently in this second episode.  I really enjoyed some of the puzzles in this one -- they're not too difficult, but the design is a nice blend of conversation, object, and timing situations, and the strategy game at the end ties the whole story together appropriately.  We'll tackle the next episode (of five) before too long.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Adventure of the Week: In the Universe Beyond (1980/2013)

We're tackling yet another Roger M. Wilcox adventure this week, with In the Universe Beyond, the tenth in a series of twenty-one text games written by the author in the early 1980s for the TRS-80 and recently converted for Windows PCs.  I've been enjoying these -- they're not too difficult, the availability of the source code helps a lot when the going gets rough, and Wilcox's interactive storytelling is interesting (and clearly maturing as this series goes along.)  These games were not widely distributed back in the day, so they're also historically valuable -- they're clearly part of the first wave of microcomputer text adventures, but they didn't get much exposure at the time.

In the Universe Beyond is a space exploration adventure that begins with the player standing outside Cape Canaveral, with an unwelcoming sign reading "Welcome to Cape Canaveral! Now get lost."  The true nature of our mission remains unstated, though we will learn more shortly beyond this initial puzzle.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to play In the Universe Beyond for themselves before I give away the details of my own playthrough -- Mr. Wilcox has made his games freely available for download, so if you're running Windows you really have no excuse.  Beyond this Universe... I mean, this point, there are certain to be...

 ****** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

The security guard standing near the unwelcoming sign is likely none too friendly, but there aren't many options available -- we can't explore anywhere else, and we have nothing in inventory.   EXAMINE GUARD suggests that He barely seems to hear you!  We can't PULL or PUSH or KICK or HIT or KILL or KISS him, though, or SHOUT or YELL... oh, wait, yes, we can YELL, and The guard misinterprets the direction of the sound, and runs off, leaving the entire complex unguarded.  (A very similar puzzle exists in the author's earlier game Jailbreak.)

We can't OPEN GATE, but we don't need to, we can just GO GATE to enter the facility and see a space ship, a scientist and some green plants.  EXAMINE SCIENTIST prompts an explanation -- a second universe is converging on ours, so we must travel there and remove the center of this invading universe, after which we will be richly rewarded.  And the password is QMY$.

We can GET PLANTS before we go, but then we can't seem to GO SHIP or BOARD SHIP or ENTER SHIP or navigate onto it.  We have some green plant leaves in inventory, and HELP yields What do plant leaves have that makes them green? -- but we can't LEAVE either.  Ah -- of course, we can SAY QMY$ to find ourselves aboard ship.

The ship's control room features a viewscreen that displays our current surroundings -- the landing site on Earth -- along with a white button and a blue button.  The adjoining equipment room contains a helmet, a large belt (It has a single 360-degree hook on one side), a maser pistol, and a sealed hatch.

The blue button launches some kind of massive weapon -- The space ship destroys the planet below! The planet's remains fly out in all directions, bashing your ship into scrap. You die inside it.  So we shouldn't do that indoors, then.

PUSH WHITE takes us to a view of the Milky Way galaxy, where PUSH BLUE causes us to crash through the light barrier and the edge of the universe where we see the planets and stars repelling each other.  If we PUSH WHITE here, we find ourselves in weak anti-gravitational orbit about a planet.  We can try to BEAM DOWN from the equipment room, but we are out of range; PUSH WHITE just toggles between near-orbit and general galaxy positioning, so we can't get any closer to the planet.

Can we BEAM UP, given the opposite nature of this place?  Yes! ... But we die quickly in the unbreathable air on the surface of the planet, and there's not enough air in the helmet to keep us alive either.  HOLD BREATH doesn't buy us any time; as soon as we land on the planet, Your helmet runs out of air quickly.  You pull it off and The air is not breatheable.

What about the sealed hatch in the equipment room?  SHOOT HATCH sears it off, allowing us to access an auxiliary store room below and pick up a promising canister, though this also seems to use up all the energy stored in the maser pistol.

Carrying the canister with us doesn't help planetside, so we must need to do something more complicated with it.  OPEN CANISTER prompts With what?, but HANDS doesn't do it.  We can't CONNECT HOOK or CONNECT CANISTER, but we can HOOK CANISTER using the hook on the belt.

But we still can't breathe!  BEAM UP and SAY QMY$ have different but similarly fatal results, as we suffocate either in space or on the surface of the planet.  I had to peek at the code to learn that we can WEAR LEAVES -- apparently this somehow protects us in a cloud of breatheable atmosphere, though what chlorophyll has to do with it I really can't say.

Planetside we spot a shovel, and we can explore the forest's edge to the north and a big field to the south.  DIGging in the field yields a can opener.  OPEN CANISTER -- With what? -- CAN OPENER fails (Sorry, but no go Joe), but replying with OPENER instead opens the canister, revealing a smaller canister inside it.  Digging in another field to the east yields a small black cylinder with a switch on one side.

We can't CLIMB TREE in the impenetrable forest, and the cylinder is stubborn -- we can't PULL SWITCH or PUSH SWITCH or FLIP SWITCH or PRESS CYLINDER.  Is the cylinder the center of the other universe?  Apparently not, as the scientist back on earth is completely uninterested in it and it seems a little premature for us to be ending the adventure.  We can't CHARGE PISTOL or INSERT CYLINDER or INSERT PISTOL either...

Aha! We can SWITCH CYLINDER, which emits a whir, although you can't see anything happening to it, and it is now an Activated black cylinder

Is it explosive?  We can DROP CYLINDER by the forest, but it doesn't seem to go off (and we can't easily pick it up again without dropping some other items, as inventory handling seems to have a limit-counting bug, or perhaps the digging up of objects which end up in our hands temporarily exceeds the normal limit.)  If we EXAMINE CYLINDER after activating it, it cuts our head in half, fatally so.  So the cylinder must be a cutting tool of some kind -- and yes, we can CUT TREES -- With what? -- CYLINDER to clear a pathway through what is now a forest of stumps (apparently we overdid the tree-cutting a bit.)

A ravine lies on the other side of the erstwhile forest, and we can JUMP to reach its eastern side, where a fat steel post resides.  To the north is a wasteland, where DIG yields what is initially described as a piece of slate... though EXAMINEing it indicates it's probably flint, as it makes sparks.  We can try to CUT POST, but neither the cylinder nor the can opener prove useful against its fat steel.

We've done all the digging we can, but EXAMINE STUMPS in the forest yields a Handle with gas nozzle (oddly, it's described as jumping into our hands, though it doesn't seem sentient.)  We can LIGHT NOZZLE with the slate, then CUT POST with the nozzle to turn it into a fat open-end steel stump.

It seems obvious that we should GO STUMP, and discover that It's too dark to see! -- even though the nozzle is still lit.  At least we can safely go back U.  What to do for a light source?  We can't CUT STUMP to make a torch or anything.  We can tell which directions we can't go in the dark, so we can navigate D, D ... whoops, You fell and broke every bone in your body.  The same happens if we try to navigate blind after that first downward move, so this isn't going to help.

We can OPEN PISTOL to remove a used but still active power source, glowing Radium as it turns out, and now we can see that we're in a cave with a loose dirt roof.  The cave isn't really a maze, we just have to navigate a few rooms to find ourselves in front of a Lead wall with peephole notchEXAMINE WALL, LOOK PEEPHOLE, EXAMINE NOTCH, and PEEP HOLE don't reveal anything of interest; in fact, neither the notch nor the peephole / hole are even recognized by the parser.  Further DIGging around in the cave rooms isn't very productive either.

After being stuck for a while, I peeked at the code again to figure out that we can't just DIG in the critical cave room, or DIG at its loose dirt ROOF specifically -- we have to DIG UP to find a key.  (This does kind of make sense, but I wasn't hitting on the right action and the game doesn't provide much help here.)

With the key in hand we can OPEN WALL and then PUSH WALL to move it aside and discover a six-section lead plate.  Going east now leads us to a perfectly spherical room, wherein lies the fabled Center of the universe.  Now all we have to do is GET CENTER, and... Congratulations, you have been sucked into the center of the universe. Dummy!  So that's not the right thing to do.

The six-section lead plate might be useful, though I wasn't quite picturing it properly -- I was trying to UNFOLD PLATE and THROW PLATE or DROP PLATE, but we can FOLD PLATE to make a lead box, which somehow allows us to safely GET CENTER (that's an awfully strong lead box!)

Now the pace picks up a bit, as the planet begins to shake. The whole universe is shaking! You have only 12 seconds until it envelops you!   Fortunately, each move we make only takes one second, so we have time to exit the cave, jump across the ravine, run through the forest back to the beam-down site, and BEAM UP -- fatally transmitting ourselves into the inside of the planet, dash it all!

Trying again, I don't quite make it in time -- I tried to BEAM DOWN one move too early -- and CRUNCH!!! The universe has closed in on you!, just before I was able to PUSH BLUE and go back to our own time-space continuum.  (The universe may have begun with a Bang, but apparently it ends with a Crunch.)

Doing everything right, we manage to deliver the Center of the universe to the scientist, and while we've saved our own universe, the promised reward is something of a disappointment:

It seems like this sort of thing ought to merit at least an episode of NOVA, but at least victory is ours!

I like these tense little endgame sequences, mostly because they make my adventurer's obsession with mapping on graph paper feel more like actual productivity.  And with game number ten played and conquered, we're about halfway through the Roger M. Wilcox oeuvre, with more to come sometime soon.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adventure of the Week: The Poseidon Adventure (1980/2013)

We're going back to the Roger M. Wilcox archives this week, to tackle the author's eighth game, another recent Windows conversion after the original TRS-80 source code was recovered from tape.  Like a number of early computer games, The Poseidon Adventure was inspired by an existing property without benefit of licensing -- but as these games weren't commercially distributed, it never became an issue in this obscure corner of the nascent technology/entertainment industry.

In case we thought this might be an adventure starring Poseidon, God of the Sea, we are immediately informed that The cruise liner "Poseidon" has capsized at sea, and you're trapped on board!  You'd better find a way out before it sinks!   So this will be an escape-the-non-alien-ship adventure, it appears.

As always, I encourage interested readers to sample The Poseidon Adventure before reading my further comments.  Mr. Wilcox has graciously made his adventures freely available, and it's always interesting to compare playthrough notes after the fact.  My purpose here is to document the history of the adventure game genre by way of specific examples, so this discussion will necessarily contain...

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

There's no starboard/port navigation here, the game retains the normal N/S/E/W/U/D conventions, though movement in the vertical directions is predictably not quite as expected.  And I believe this is the first Wilcox adventure to incorporate a true ticking clock element.

We have nothing in inventory to begin with, so a little exploration is in order.  The first room is rather generic -- just the ship "Poseidon" -- but things get a little more specific as we check things out.  A tool room contains a hand drill, screwdriver, and keyhole saw.  A medical "closet" contains a bottle of some liquid -- we can't READ BOTTLE, but EXAMINE BOTTLE indicates it contains lye soap.  So it's not liniment, or a health potion or anything, then.

A hallway ends at a grate over a long, dark shaft -- we can UNSCREW GRATE -- With what? -- SCREWDRIVER to gain access to the air shaft, which leads to a bathroom where (echoing a memorable moment from the film) EXAMINE TOILET indicates that It is on the ceiling.  A nearby room for smokers contains a cigarette lighter.

Heading U or D from the starting location confirms that we're aboard an inverted, most likely sinking ship.  The cargo hold at the bottom of the ship now lies above, and we can find a plastic bag and a closed suitcase containing a metal rod and long thermal undies.  (I found myself approaching the game's seven-item inventory limit here, something I didn't really run into much in the earlier Wilcox games.  To this efficiently we'll have to drop some things when we're done with them; fortunately most items are used to solve a single puzzle and can then be discarded.)

Below the starting area is a room with a hatch that's now located on the "floor."  West of here lies an ex-stoner's cabin containing a Nitric acid capsule.

And that's about it for mapping at this point, so let's see if we can figure out how to open the hatch and get out of here.  Except... wait, we're upside down, so that's probably a bad idea.

The metal rod has a place for a connection at one end.  We can try to CONNECT ROD in various places, but something is missing.  And while I've been exploring and experimenting, the parser is now informing us that "The Poseidon is sinking fast!"  So yes, time is of the essence.

Can we SAW HATCH?  No, a keyhole saw requires a small hole.  Can we make a small hole with the acid?  OPEN CAPSULE?  SQUIRT ACID?  EAT CAPSULE?  Erm... DROP ACID?  Nope.  And as I try to DRILL HATCH and DRILL FLOOR with the same lack of success, we reach the point where The Poseidon has sunk.  The adventure has ended.

I like tight-timing adventures -- they're usually brief, intense experiences, and it's oddly entertaining to relive the same experience, trying to do everything right this time and inch closer to victory.  But I seem to be stuck here -- what am I missing?  I've tried to SEARCH ROOM (there's no "search" verb) and EXAMINE ROOM everywhere; I've examined all the objects I've run across and discovered no new salient details.  So what am I missing?

A peek at the source code suggests part of my problem -- we need to simply LOOK or EXAMINE in the tool room to note that The north wall looks like it used to have an exit, but it was boarded up some time in the past.  (EXAMINE WALL yields only, "You see nothing special.", and I didn't expect LOOK to behave this way.)

Now we can DRILL HOLE and SAW WALL to reach an Abandoned tool shed (as Mr. Wilcox's source code comments note, this is an odd thing to find onboard) and acquire a large hand axe.

We can't WEAR UNDIES -- I have a feeling it wouldn't look good on you -- so they must have some other purpose.  We can INSERT CAPSULE -- I was trying to get it into the hatch somehow, but what this actually does is put it into the bottle of lye soap so that we now have a Bottle of nitroglycerin.  This could be very useful if we're careful.

Of course, if we LIGHT BOTTLE while holding it, You're blown to shards!!   We can DROP BOTTLE and then light it, but all it does in the hatch room is go BOOM!  If we do this in the bathroom, however, then The explosion destroyed the toilet, made a hole in the ceiling, and caused something to fall out!  -- a pipe wrench, apparently left behind by a plumber like an absent-minded doctor's surgical sponge.

We can now travel upward from the bathroom now to visit a passenger's room with a closed window.  We can try to OPEN WINDOW -- With what? -- AXE, but that's surprisingly ineffective -- It remains closed.  Nor can we CHOP WINDOW.

What about the hatch?  We can't OPEN HATCH with the wrench, or TURN HATCH... ack!  We can just GO HATCH at any time to reach an underwater pocket, and all along I had been assuming it was sealed against the ravages of the fathoms below!  We can pick up a metal claw here, and examination reveals that It is of solid construction, as if it were one end of a crowbar.  We CONNECT ROD, and now we have a useable crowbar, though we don't need to PRY HATCH obviously (and I wonder about the structural integrity and durability of a two-piece crowbar.)

We can't PRY WINDOW either -- "pry" is not a recognized verb -- but we can OPEN WINDOW -- With what? -- CROWBAR.  Of course, It cracks open stubbornly, then bursts forth with water from the surrounding ocean, and we drown.  We can avoid this fate if we have the foresight to WEAR BAG -- this plastic bag apparently holds enough oxygen to allow fairly extensive underwater exploration, and is also resistant enough to external water pressure to keep us from being suffocated by the bag itself.

We're too far below the surface to swim up and escape that way, it seems, but we can navigate the waters outside the cabin to enter another passenger's room with a (fortunately) broken window, though why the water has not used this breach to take the whole ship down faster is unclear.  Those cabin doors must be pretty airtight!  From this second passenger room we can reach a slanting hallway, blocked by a Wall of flames (also undamped by ocean water, though it may be slanting upwards.)

And -- since we can't wear the undies, this solution suggests itself -- THROW UNDIES puts out the fire, as the "Thermal" evidently meant fire retardant. (They even remain miraculously unburned!)  Now we can pass through a corridor leading toward the Propeller Room, where there's a shutoff valve.  An upward passage is blocked by live steam, which is where the pipe wrench comes in handy.

At last we're in the actual Propeller Room, where there's a button.  We PUSH BUTTON, and... The propellers have started!  You're ground to pieces!  So maybe that was a bad decision.  But we're obviously at the bottom of the ship now.  What we actually want to do here is CHOP HOLE with the hand axe, and then GO HOLE to victory!

Without the source code I think I would have been stuck for a while, although I suppose eventually I might have tried to DRILL HOLE everywhere and in everything until it worked in the tool room.  And I got tripped up on my own assumptions about the hatch -- it seemed like opening the hatch would comprise the game's major puzzle, when in fact it was not even an obstacle.  The Poseidon Adventure is more good old-fashioned fun from Mr. Wilcox, and I'll be continuing our journey through this series in the future.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner (2008)

This week, I'm playing through the first episode of Telltale Game's 2008 episodic animated adventure series, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, entitled Homestar Ruiner.  Based on Matt and Mike Chapman's popular Homestar Runner universe, the series stars the popular character Strong Bad, a luchador masked wrestler of indeterminate age and o'erweening braggadocio, though his plans rarely come to the fruition he envisions.  I'll be playing this game on the PC (on a laptop with limited graphics capabilities, so please excuse the aliasing and muddy textures visible in most of these screenshots):

I wasn't very familiar with Homestar Runner before I played this series on the Wii back in 2008, but I really took to the world and its cast over the course of the series.  The game's quirky humor benefits greatly from extensive writing and voice-acting participation by the brothers Chapman (Matt voices all the male characters himself), and the original cartoons' Flash-animated style translates remarkably well to simple 3-D.  The point-and-click user interface is simplified, with object and icon-driven conversations instead of text options, and a free-form map that lets the player decide where new locations go, with no fixed geography or walking from location to location.  Like many Telltale games, the system provides hints at a tailorable level -- Low, High, and Medium -- which in general determines how often, and how explicitly, characters will suggest ways to get story progress back on track.

There's a long-standing debate about video game protagonists -- should they be silent, for the sake of the player's freedom to identify and interpret?  Or strongly characterized, as in most animated adventure games?  In this case, Strong Bad is a fun protagonist to play -- we don't have to agree or sympathize with his worldview to enjoy the experience, which pokes fun at the "hero" more often than not even as we strive to help him accomplish his goals (or some half-baked approximation thereof.)


This premiere episode begins with Strong Bad answering a fan email suggesting he should just "beat the snot out of" his longtime rival, the sweet if brainless ostensible lead character Homestar.  But complications are likely to ensue...

As always, I encourage interested readers to tackle Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner (SBCG4AP 1: HR for... short?) before proceeding with my comments below.  Much of the game's humor has nothing to do with solving the puzzles, and this is a game that should be experienced as fully as possible if you find the style entertaining.  Be advised that beyond this point, there will most certainly be...

***** SPOILERS?!?  OH, MAN! ******

The game opens with a musical cartoon intro featuring Strong Bad's song, Handle My Style, written for the game series by the Chapman brothers.  It sets up the Homestar Runner universe quite nicely in a brief period of time, at least from Strong Bad's perspective.

Strong Bad reads his email, we're informed that Homestar is probably down at the race track, and the first destination outside the House of Strong is added to the map.  We can jump from any known location to any other simply by bringing up the map and clicking on a destination.

There's a classic Sierra adventure reference early on -- next to Strong Bad's Lappy 486 computer is a case of diskettes.  The first is labeled P. Quest, and Strong Bad mentions that it contains "Disks 1 through 24 of all my favorite games!"  (I have to say, I personally do not miss the days of media swapping!)

We can't get into Strong Sad's room (the domicile of Strong Bad's emo brother), at least not in this episode, though he will show up to comment on things from time to time.  So it's down to the ground floor to check out the kitchen.  There's nothing useful here at the moment, though there are some funny lines concerning the fridge, the sink, the smoke detector, the microwave, and some awkwardly homey wall hangings.  There's a See Dee Player (the series often adopts overly literal spellings for techno-gadgetry) which features a number of tunes including some BritPout 90's emo rock, Coach Z's latest rap demo, some chamber music, and a Latin rhythm number.

Strong Bad's room contains his 7-track player, Fun Machine video game console, metal detector, and a Videlectrix poster ("We use computers to make video games!")   We also find Strong Bad's drawing table, where we can play a mini-game featuring Strong Bad's comic strip, Teen Girl Squad.  We don't have to do this, but the goal is to match a selection of props with the right character at the right point in the storyline to ensure that all the girls meets an untimely, cartoonishly violent end.  Strong Bad's sense of humor is sometimes of the He-Man Woman Hater's club variety, and his vocalizations gratingly falsetto, though this all plays more as unfamiliarity with the mysterious opposite sex than genuine misogyny ("That sassy, injury-prone Teen Girl Squad!")  Strong Bad has misplaced some of his gag ideas, which can be tracked down in the game world to set up the best possible sequences.

The Fun Machine features the Videlectrix game Snake Boxer 5, also optional -- it's an 8-bit style game with mildly 16-bit graphics.  Gameplay is simple punch/block/move stuff from an overhead perspective, as a boxer battles progressively more difficult snakes.  There's a secret code for the "hidden mode," but it's written down in the manual, also missing at the moment for more optional collect-'em-up play.

The basement features some visual-only jokes with no commentary dialogue -- college sports pennants for Mediocre Institute's Flying Okays, for example.  Strong Bad can knock The Cheat, the family's scary-smart cheetah-like friend-slash-pet, into the washing machine, for no apparent reason.  The rec room's TV set is playing an infomercial (with uncredited and unintelligible narration by Jared Emerson-Johnson), and the Trogdor arcade cabinet is out of order (this will become a plot element in a later episode.)

There's nothing to do at the house right now, plotwise, so it's time to head out to the track to see what's going on with Homestar Runner.  But first, we may notice that outside the house is a suspicious box, under which is hidden... nothing.  Strong Bad's snail mailbox contains a black cap, which goes into the Photo Booth inventory, for an optional dress-up activity.

Music, largely drawn and rearranged from the Homestar Runner cartoons, is employed well and sparingly -- it's not constant, but when we transition to new areas it kicks in and then fades out eventually.

An icon-driven conversation at the track establishes that beating Homestar in the Free Country USA Tri-Annual Race to the End of the Race would be a suitable way to "beat" him, and that his girlfriend Marzipan has promised him a big victory party if he wins.  We can also learn that Marzipan may be using Strong Bad's Snake Boxer 5 manual for -- horrors! -- a papier mache project.  Homestar then has an annoying (to him) phone conversation with Marzipan, leading him to boot his cell phone into the nearby field and head off to the locker room.

We can explore the track and the race's obstacles freely, though we can't interact with some objects while Coach Z is keeping an eye on everything.  There's a funny 80's music joke here, as Strong Bad notes that the bleachers are currently "emptier than a Stryper concert."  The race requires contestants to cross a rolling log in a swimming pool, ride a pogo stick carrying a Heavy Lourde (Coach Z's Minnesota-inflected pronunciation of "heavy load"), and jump over three obstacles -- a carton of curdled milk, a large turtle, and a conventional track hurdle (and yes, I missed the rhyming joke completely back in 2008!)  We can't mess with the camera or the microphone at the side of the track, at least while Coach Z is hanging around, but conversation with the coach establishes that, in order to win, a racer must beat the previous record from all previous races.  Coach Z has established a time of 22:00, back in 1999, and it's too late for Strong Bad to enter, as the deadline passed a month ago.  Only Homestar and Pom Pom will be competing (Coach Z: "Maybe we shoulda put up some flyers or somethin'.")

As Strong Bad enters the locker room, an icon pops up indicating that new email awaits him at home, but first we ought to talk to Homestar some more -- Strong Bad can suggest he shower, presumably so we can get at his locker, but he's not going anywhere right now.  Pom Pom's locker contains his extravagantly expensive training bag; a central locker is empty; and (beefy brother) Strong Mad's locker contains his Limozeen (a popular rock band in the Homestar Runner universe) -- "but they're in space!" -- lunchbox.

As we leave the race track, Strong Bad thinks he should go give Marzipan a piece of his mind about not inviting him to Homestar's presumed victory party, so we can add her house to the map, and we might as well go there now.

There are some balloons tied to Marzipan's mailbox, but we can't just take them ("Do you know hard it is to find eco-friendly mylar?")  Can we use the metal detector here?  Strong Bad reports that "this little patch of ground already's horked up its share of treasure today" -- so noStrong Bad can engage Marzipan in conversation -- he has not been invited due to a past (and very funny) cake-diving incident, fully animated in flashback though we don't ever need to see this moment:

We can also discover that Marzipan's hedge trimmers -- presumably to use on the inviting hedges scattered around the map -- are in "the shop," that is, at Bubs' Concession Stand -- and that the Snake Boxer 5 manual has been given to Coach Z.  Marzipan has built a big Homestar float, and we can pick some onions from her award-winning organic garden (the main reason she is having the party, though nobody wanted to come until she made it Homestar-centric.)

Bubs is the rotund, blue-faced proprietor of the local concessions stand and all-purpose retail outlet, who sounds a bit like Bill Cosby.  We can inquire about business, and acquire Marzipan's repaired hedge clippers.  We can also find the cover to the Snake Boxer 5 manual (rendered in classic Activision/Atari 2600 style) under a box.

Back at home, new emails ask whether Homestar's or Strong Bad's head is bigger -- a hint of sorts -- and promote Total Load Total Body Fitness Energy Enhancement Powder, prompting Strong Bad to request a free sample.  We can also use the metal detector -- it operates on an audio-driven hot/cold basis as we wander around the landsape -- in the Strongs' front yard and at the track.  When we identify a hot spot, Strong Bad plants a flag; we don't have anything we can use to dig it up just yet.  We can also find a hot spot in the Strongbadia USA area -- a small area near Bubs' stand that serves as a sort of sovereign clubhouse -- and map out some other Homestar Runner landmarks near Bubs', like the Cool Car, the stick, the Drive-Thru Whale, and the wall, as well as the photo booth.  Another cardboard box conceals a blue Data Boys shirt with an embroidered floppy disk logo, for costume use in the photo booth.  (I'll note that the Whale's intentionally garbled fast-food speaker pronouncements are much clearer in the PC version than in the WiiWare version, where file size limitations seem to have impacted the compression of this already noisy material.)

The hedge trimmers can be used to turn ugly hedges into topiary -- a guitar near Bubs' stand, Homestar at Marzipan's (with real-leaf fig leaf), and Strong Bad at the track.  There's a fourth one, the game stats menu suggests, which must be at an undiscovered location at this point.  Meanwhile, a confirmation email indicates that the Total Load powder is on its way to Bubs' -- he's the local distributor, as the only commercial establishment in town.  We can goof around with the light switch and the oh-so-psychedelic Rave Switch in Strong Bad's computer room too (there's a bug somewhere here that seems to turn on the subtitles?)  The powder has not arrived yet, so another email is pending it seems.

Coach Z has passed the game manual on to Bubs; we can also discuss the race further to learn that any victory must be confirmed via video tape sent to the international ruling body in Sweden.  Bubs provides page 1 of the manual, covering the game's backstory about Boxer Joe being forced to return to the ring (after Snake Boxer 4) by the Snake Mafia -- so that's progress, though two pages are still missing.  (Yes, collecting the manual pages is just as optional as some of the activities I'm not detailing here.  No, I could not resist restoring an Atari-era manual to readable order given the opportunity.)

Strong Bad can use Homestar's cell phone to call Marzipan and tell her the race is about to begin; Pom Pom to ask him not to beat Homestar too badly; the Cheat to suggest he attack Homestar and steal his boombox; himself to hear his cheesy come-on recording for attractive women who may be calling to offer hot tubs and pork rinds; and Coach Z to pin responsibility on Homestar for putting itching powder in his athletic garb, though "he's never complained about it."

While Marzipan is at the track, we can steal her balloons and collect some hedge trimmings which I failed to notice after the topiary work done earlier. From Marzipan's, we can call Bubs' phone tree and Homsar, a sort of bizarro Homestar whose goofy nonsensical pronouncements are always good for a laugh or at least some confusion.  ("Step right up!  I'm a crudely drawn cupcake!")

We can convince Homestar to apply onions to his body as a speed enhancer, which he does enthusiastically, immediately making it possible to convince him he should take a shower so we can steal his clothes from the middle locker.  A cutscene establishes that the now-streaking Homestar (with digital censoring matrix of course) has offended everyone at the track -- the King of Town and Coach Z in particular.  Having the clothes in inventory suggests an idea -- we can call Marzipan to the track again, and use the hedge trimmers to liberate the head from the Homestar float.  Strong Bad inadvertently burns the float down with its own tiki torches in the process -- so that's a bonus.

Now Strong Bad can don his improvised Homestar Costume -- which fools everyone, though some comment about his strangely enlarged head -- and enter the race.  The remarkably bouncy and athletic Pom Pom scores a time in the 5 second neighborhood, while in my playthrough I couldn't even get Strong Bad-as-Homestar across the log, and had to quit the race after a few minutes of trying. 

So "Homestar" loses, Marzipan drops him, he's threatened with prosecution for indecent exposure, and victory is... oh, fudge.  Now that Homestar is a wanted fugitive and a disgraced race contestant without a girlfriend, he's hiding out at the House of Strong.  Strong Bad shouts to the heavens: "Irony!"

The game's second act requires us to undo all the evil done in the first act, restoring Homestar to normality and getting him out of Strong Bad's house, where he seems to be everywhere we look.  Homestar is trying to cook up some candy in Strong Bad's kitchen to earn Marzipan's affections back; in the basement rec room, he is tracking the manhunt for his indecently exposed self, and he desperately wants not to be a wanted criminal (this adds the King of Town's castle to the map); and at Strong Bad's drawing table, he fantasizes about winning the race.

A few things have changed to help set up the rest of the story.  There's a lifetime supply of Jela-Ton brand gelatin in the kitchen, shipped to Homestar as the second-place prize from the race, which we can acquire.  There are also some new emails, including confirmation that the Total Load shipment has arrived, and an ad for a free candy coupon for Bubs' stand, to be found at the track.  We can also use the microphone there (now that Coach Z has gone indoors to work on Pom Pom's victory paperwork) to discover a costume mustache hidden in the loudspeaker.

At Bubs', with coupons in hand, we can pick up some free candy (chocolate covered organic packing peanuts -- "the kind of candy I give away for free") and pick up the Total Load enhancement powder.  We also need to get Homestar to win the race, which we can re-trigger by "accidentally" erasing the race footage in the video camera at the track by pushing the "Do not touch!" Erase button.

Let's visit the King of Town's castle to see if we can destroy Homestar's criminal record.  There's a hedge outside we can trim into the semblance of Trogdor (and earn the hedge-trimming trophy, and collect more hedge trimmings for future use.)

Getting into the castle takes some doing -- if Strong Bad is spotted by the Poopsmith (the King's manure-shoveling bodyguard/custodian), he's thrown out of the castle by the guard, Strong Mad.  We can acquire a shovel here, and avoid the Poopsmith by hiding behind a King of Town statue and a privacy screen, moving when he's busy shoveling.   The second room has a plunger we can pick up, and a conveniently Strong Bad shaped shrub to hide behind.

If we get all the way to the room where Homestar's record is stored, we find it's being guarded by Strong Mad.  We have to stick the plunger against a hole in the wall and scuttle through the ventilation system to grab the document.  This is apparently the only record in existence, so even though Strong Bad is shortly discovered and tossed out of the castle, having it in his possession frees Homestar from his criminal past.

Now that we have the shovel, we can dig in the metal detector spots (including a new one by the castle) to find the remaining pages of the Snake Boxer 5 manual (including the secret code, which follows a classic pattern -- Up, Up, Down, Up, Start) and a couple of Teen Girl Squad ideas.

The secret game code accesses a mode where the player is also a snake, with fire-breathing power that builds up while blocking.  I was able to get to 21 knockouts in this mode, earning some optional awesomeness points, but no story progress, so this is also completely at the player's discretion.

Let's see if we can get the candy delivered to Marzipan on Homestar's unknowing behalf next.  Leaving it on the front porch and ringing the bell, we... are dismayed to see the gluttonous King of Town show up and eat the candy before she can get to the door.  There are some handy loose dirt holes here, though, and we can always get more candy from Bubs.  We need to dig the holes deeper -- complete with a comical montage and rockin' 80's inspirational soundtrack -- and cover them with hedge clippings to set up a "trap fit for a king."  Marzipan accepts the candy and calls Homestar, leaving a message indicating that she is willing to be his girlfriend again.

Now we can tackle the primary puzzle, the re-running of the Race to the End of the Race.  Checking the standings, we see that Pom Pom finished the race in 05:30, and "Homestar" was disqualified (in my pathetic first attempt.)  Let's see if we can even the odds a bit.  Adding the Jela-Ton to the water fixes the log in place.  Tying the balloons to the weight lightens the Heavy Lourde.  The hurdles present more of a challenge -- we can rearrange them, but we'll probably need to run the race once or twice to figure out that the hurdle goes first, the turtle second, and the curdled milk last to match them to Strong Bad's peaking and flagging strength during this leg.

Erasing the tape and re-running the race nigh perfectly pulls in a new "Homestar" time of 15:23 -- better than Coach Z's long-standing record, but not better than Pom Pom's incredible 5.3 second time (listed on the board as 05:30, per the millisecond sub-second standard for stopwatch numbers.)  So we need to disqualify Pom Pom somehow, which we can easily accomplish by filling his equipment bag with Total Load enhancing powder and getting Coach Z to inspect the lockers for illegal performance drugs.

Now "Homestar" is the big winner and can presumably leave Strong Bad's home, after we "Pwove it!" by giving him the trophy, his criminal record, and his cell phone so he can get Marzipan's reconciliation message.  All should be well... except now there's a big surprise party going on, and almost everyone has invaded the House of Strong's living room.


We have to turn on the See Dee Player's Latin music to get a conga-line going, though for entertainment's sake it's well worth sampling each of the tracks and the various characters' reactions to them.  Then we can use a strategically placed banana peel (formerly stuck under the King of Town by the pizza table) and recline the Luxa Lounger to reroute the conga line a bit, to send everyone slipping out the living room window.

Victory is ours -- "in the most direct and least convoluted way"!

Now an "Extended Play" mode is unlocked, giving us extra opportunities to do all the optional activities if we desire and encounter a few bits of post-game content.  After the end credits roll, a preview of the second episode, Strong Badia The Free, is shown, and as I've thoroughly enjoyed this series, I'll probably be playing that one fairly soon.