Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Marketing Adventure (1981?)

While I occasionally cover a well-known adventure here, part of the fun of writing this blog is in discovering and exploring more obscure games.  This week, I'm very happy to have run across an oddity with genuine historical significance -- something called Marketing Adventure, written by Rob Fulop (Demon Attack) in-house at Atari as a prototype/corporate in-joke over a long weekend, per Mr. Fulop's recollections in a 2013 discussion at the AtariAge.com forums.


There's no year given, but as Fulop left Atari to help found Imagic in 1982 and he was at the company from 1978 until that time, my guess would be that this was put together circa 1981.  The game has historical significance because it's set (in thin disguise) at the one-time Atari Headquarters on Borrega Avenue, and the game itself satirizes the corporate culture at Atari, complete with certain legendary sex-and-drugs references from the Grass Valley era.

The game itself is fairly straightforward, though the limited parser gets in the way a lot and the unpolished, old-fashioned scrolling text interface gives away the game's prototype/not-for-publication nature.  Our goal is to locate a golden disk (production ready code, in game development parlance) and deliver it to the marketing department.

Interested adventurers are encouraged to embark upon a firsthand Marketing Adventure, but general readers and Atarians should feel welcome to read about my own experience in detail below.  As far as I can determine, the game does not actually have a "good ending," so some may find it unsatisfying as a traditional text adventure.  In any case, there are bound to be historically interesting...

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

We begin in the parking lot of a famous video game company -- that just happens to be located at specific addresses on Borregas where Atari resided at the time -- and note that There are many sports cars here.  The two-word parser is very simple, with no EXAMINE verb, so we have to take things at face value, and many objects are not in the game's dictionary.  The engine does not like to repeat room descriptions, even when significant details have changed, so we have to use L (LOOK does not work) to redisplay them if we think we might have missed something.

East of our starting point is Borregas Drive, which connects the two company buildings, 1265 and 1272.  In the real world, 1265 Borregas Avenue was Atari's Corporate Headquarters, and 1195 housed the Consumer Division, not included in this game.  1272 was the Engineering Building, built in 1978; this suggests that this game dates from the early 1980s, as the company moved to new headquarters in July 1984.

There's a tamale truck parked here, but we can't BUY TAMALE or even take INVENTORY or INV -- only I works to establish that we're carrying nothing.  The map is also fairly tight, as from this point we can only head North into the Lobby of CHQ.  A guard blocks entrance to an arcade to the east, and a staircase leads up.

We can't get rid of the guard, and I can't find any way to interact with him, so we'll head upstairs to a landing.  Stairs continue up to the Marketing Department, and a sign reads, "ONLY THE APPROPRIATELY DRESSED MAY ENTER."  If we try to go U, we are told only that SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY; this engine feels very much like an in-house tool, and real playability is not a primary concern.

I'll head back to the west end of Borregas to visit the company cafeteria in the Engineering Building.  There's a special today, and an elevator to the east with no visible means of access.

Heading north from the cafeteria confirms one long-standing bit of Atari lore -- the Engineering Building was a coveted place to work, in part due to the co-ed Hot Tub and Sauna here!  But there's nothing we can really do here besides bask in the reflected glow of naughty Atari history, as the hot tub is under repairs.

West of the cafeteria is a Lush Courtyard where people are playing frisbee, and where we can pick up a blue card.  The parser is definitely limited -- I try to GET CARD, GET BLUE, TAKE BLUE, TAKE CARD, and finally succeed when I TAKE BLUE CARD.  Whew!

We can't TAKE TAMALE from the truck, or INSERT BLUE CARD into the elevator.  I try asking for a HINT, and am told (as I assumed) that The blue card is an access card.  I try to SHOW CARD and USE BLUE CARD, and finally WAVE BLUE CARD works.  The elevator door opens, and we can use it to reach the Secretary's Area on the second floor (the elevator only travels between these two floors.)

A large locked cabinet here is marked #3; we're told that The secretary has the key to this cabinet, but she is at lunch today.  A locked door to the west is marked "MANAGER."

From this area, we can travel north into a long north-south hallway, which spans two locations.  At the far, northern end, we hear people arguing about colors to the west.  This turns out to be Lab C, where people in three-piece suits are crowded around a TV, reviewing an epic new game cartridge today

Heading south into the deserted Lab B, where computer games are developed, we find a sign on the door reading, "Marketing review today, lab C."  North of Lab C is Lab D, where in what is almost surely an Atari in-joke, A strange looking woman tries to crash into you on a chair.

We can travel west into a Short Hallway, with tacky artwork on the wall and a sweetish odor to the north.  This leads into the Ladies' Lounge, where the MRB holds its meetings.  If I had any doubts that this was an in-house adventure never meant for public consumption, they are erased as the author tells us more about the MRB:

There's also a chalkboard with the words, "ITS A SMALL BUSINESS MACHINE," perhaps a dig at Atari management's position on the company's home computers and gaming.  It might also be a password, so we'll make note of it.

East of the Ladies' Lounge is the Computer Room, with a very expensive tandem computer that has never been used.  A terminal here tells us to clean up our files on the 11/34, and prompts us for a project code.

West of the Ladies' Lounge is a Vice President's Office, with electronic toys and games scattered about.  The VP may be at the long range planning meeting; this week being sponsored by Club Med in Mazatlan.  There's a company badge here, and we can TAKE BADGE, though when I try to WEAR BADGE, THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE.

I head back to the long hallway and explore its southern end, entering Lab A to the west where people are engrossed in games of Atari's 8-bit computer hit Star Raiders.  A tall, wiry man with glasses looks over software specifications, and it's noted that A new person is hired every day here.  This room reconnects to Lab B to the north -- the engine doesn't always tell us about which directions are navigable, so mapping this out requires a little trial and error.

East of the southern end of the long hallway is the Hardware Lab, where signs of the impending videogame industry crash may be in evidence: "It is rumored that nobody works here anymore, there are cobwebs everywhere."  There is a key labeled MANAGER here, though, so we should go visit the Manager's Office.

The manager's door stands open now -- maybe because the engine doesn't really support unlocking things -- and we can enter to find papers everywhere.  One looks interesting -- a memo labeled CONFIDENTIAL.  We can't TAKE MEMO, but we can READ MEMO -- it pertains to coffee duty, but we find another scrap of paper in the process bearing the word, "ROCKFIGHT."

Hmmmmm.  Is that a project code?  I go to the computer room and try to TYPE, ENTER or SAY ROCKFIGHT -- only the latter produces a meaningful response, and that's just the standard non-response THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE.  HINT here tells us, This terminal is capable of speech recognition.  So we're on the right track, but we must need a different word.

I try going to Lab C where all the marketing people are, and SAY ROCKFIGHT here -- Everybody beams and an official looking person whispers into your ear.... 'project code is 3V2000'.  Okay?

I return to the computer room and SAY 3V2000, and the printer produces a 2-page status report.  I TAKE STATUS REPORT (TAKE REPORT doesn't work) and now we have the price of admission into the room to the west of the short hallway.

Now we're in the office of the Games Manager, littered with old racing forms (an in-joke about Imagic co-founder Dennis Koble, per Mr. Fulop's 2013 comments.)  The manager is playing Missile Command (Fulop worked on the Atari 2600 conversion released in 1980, so that suggests this game was written between 1980 and 1982) and there's a round metal can here with a sign: "STATUS REPORTS GO HERE."  There's also a crowbar, which we'll take with us as this is always a useful adventuring tool.

I think I know what to do with the crowbar, so I return to the Secretary's Area and locked cabinet #3.  But I can't UNLOCK CABINET or OPEN #3 or UNLOCK LARGE CABINET or BREAK INTO LARGE LOCKED CABINET #3, and the parser doesn't seem to recognize any combination I can come up with so I'm at an impasse until I think of something better to try.

I wander south into a corner office, filled with people playing backgammon, then head back to the other building to see if I can get into the arcade.  With the security badge in hand, the guard lets us past.

Inside the arcade, we are dazzled and deafened by the company's own game room.  There is a Pierre Cardin tie draped over a pinball machine, which we should probably TAKE and WEAR to get into the marketing department upstairs.

Now we can travel upstairs to Marketing, where all major corporate decisions are made.  We learn from a beautiful secretary that the entire department is at Charlie Brown's for lunch, and they have been there since yesterday -- yet another corporate Atari reference, I suspect, though I wasn't able to find any information about Charlie Brown's establishment with a quick Internet search.

East of the Marketing offices we find the Competitive Product Display Room, where competitor's computers line the walls.  We're informed that You must have the golden disk to enter the president's office.  So we'll want to come back here after we track that down.

What about this cabinet?  It doesn't seem like the parser even recognizes the word CABINET -- OPEN CABINET yields OPEN WHAT? -- so we must need to focus on the crowbar.  USE CROWBAR and THROW CROWBAR and WAVE CROWBAR are ineffective, but (after quite a bit of experimenting) I discover that SWING CROWBAR does the trick, opening the cabinet to reveal a gold disk (Dysan).   This is another now-historical reference -- Dysan was key in developing floppy disk technology, and its media products had a reputation for quality.

I think we're close to victory now -- we take the gold disk to the president's office, and as we enter, a hush falls over the room full of marketing people having an intense discussion.  We GIVE DISK... no, DROP DISK... DELIVER DISK?  Nope.  HINT suggests that these people are waiting for us to say something, so I try to SAY ITS A SMALL BUSINESS MACHINE, and fail miserably to the jeering of the marketeers-- apparently, that was yesterday's password!

Restoring from an earlier emulator save state (the game has no native SAVE capability), I learn that SAY ROCKFIGHT and SAY 3V2000 have no effect or impact either.  I try to SAY ITS A SMALL BUSINESS MACHINE in Lab C where the other marketing team is residing, and am ignored.  And HINT in the Ladies' Lounge where we found this catchphrase tells us, "Remember these words well."  Trying to SAY other random words produces no response.  So this seems to be the only place we can employ this particular phrase, but I'm perplexed because this consistently results in losing the game.

There are no published walkthroughs for Marketing Adventure, so I dissect the disk image a bit -- the text is fortunately in clear ASCII for the most part -- and I have to conclude that there is no real victory condition!  For better or worse, then, this is the intended ending of the game -- a suitably nihilistic conclusion to a futile corporate errand.  It's not a victory, but we've successfully completed the game!

Marketing Adventure isn't a fully-realized adventure game, but it's a great little slice-of-history experience for anyone interested in the Atari generation.  Getting to "visit" Atari's Corporate HQ through Rob Fulop's eyes circa the early 1980s makes for a compelling interactive experience, even if we can't "get" all of the in-jokes.  Fun and funny stuff, and I'm very glad Mr. Fulop spent a little time goofing around and creating this project, and that somehow it has been preserved for posterity.  Truly unique.

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