Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Sultan's Palace (1981)

I'm entering the Sultan's Palace this week, in another Atari Program eXchange adventure for the Atari 8-bit computers.  It was written by Dennis Koble using Atari's quirky in-house text adventure engine and published in 1981; Koble would go on to co-found Imagic the following year.

We've seen this plot before -- we're to rescue the princess (Fatima) from the evil villain (Sultan Abdul).  But this is another example of the freewheeling Atari philosophy of the time, with a couple of puzzles involving decidedly adult content.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to visit the Sultan's Palace independently before reading my detailed notes below.  But be advised that the SULTAN.DAT data file included on the Marketing Adventure disk image in circulation online is corrupted in a very inconvenient manner -- a fatal error occurs at the very end of the game -- so look for the stand-alone version.  Beyond this point, I will be documenting my experience in salacious detail, so there are certain to be...

****** S.P. SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

The game starts off with more momentum than many text adventures -- the Sultan's guards have been drugged (presumably by our hero?) and there's a massive iron gate in our way, with a feeling of forboding [sic] in the air.  In our Inventory we have... PANTS.  Okay.  I didn't realize how exposed we'd been in every other adventure game.  Just for fun, I attempt to DROP PANTS -- and we can do that, but THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE.  Erm.  There may be an interesting incident ahead for our hero.  We can TAKE PANTS -- not GET PANTS, mind, as this parser has a very limited dictionary; we also can't WEAR PANTS so we'll have to assume possession comprises nine-tenths of the decent non-exposure.

We can't go anywhere else from here, so opening the gate would appear to be our initial challenge... except all we have to do is OPEN GATE.  We can now reach the Entrance Hall to the north, where many doors await you.  So we have some exploration to do -- the APX games don't give us an exits list, and the room descriptions tend to be pretty brief, so mapping requires some trial and error as we test all the possible directions.  (I tend to miss the upward and downward paths, as will become apparent later on.)

A Storage Room to the east contains a rusty scimitar, so we'll take that along.  A Dusty Empty Room to the west is of undetermined size but doesn't seem to occupy multiple locations.  To the North of the dusty room is the Guards' Quarters, currently empty, where we can acquire an empty jar from a pile of trash.

East of the guards' quarters is the Grand Hall, housing the Sultan's diamond-encrusted golden throne and a number of Persian carpets that, if adventure tradition holds, will prove capable of flight, so we'll take one (actually, this seems to take all of them, as if we drop the carpet elsewhere we're given the same description of many carpets.)  Heading south from the Grand Hall returns us to the entrance hall; this map is pretty consistent geographically.

West of the dusty room is the Guards' Brothel, where a dark beautiful girl with a fantastic body and sultry expression approaches you.  But none of the verbs I can think of (including the CENSORED ones the parser recognizes but pretends not to) seem to be helpful here, and GIRL isn't a recognized noun.  I also discover a bug in the APX engine that has somehow escaped my notice in playing through several of these recently -- if we start our command with a space, it errors out.

The brothel's western and southern exits loop back to the dusty room, while heading East takes us to the guards' quarters.  North brings us to the Kitchen, where a tray of peacock eyes is available if we wish to TAKE PEACOCK EYES (we must spell nouns out completely to make the parser happy, no shorthand is implemented or allowed.)

East of the kitchen is the Sultan's Chambers, where a golden lamp radiates, beckoning us to TAKE LAMP.  And this wouldn't be an Arabian Nights-themed adventure if we didn't at least try to RUB LAMP -- but THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE so we'll have to save the presumed genie for a more appropriate situation.

North again takes us into the Sultan's Bedchamber, where a wall of erotic scenes lends a festive note to the room.  It appears this wall can be moved, as when we try to travel west SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY.  First, we'll go east, to the Harem Room, where we are suddenly besieged by sex starved lovelies who leave us very tired and unable to move after the required exertions, although we can figure out that there are no other exits from this room.  I take a chance and EAT PEACOCK EYES, which renews our strength enough to escape.

Above the Sultan's bedroom is his Observatory, though it doesn't seem there's anything to do here besides pondering the starry night.  Can we move the erotic mural?  PUSH WALL, RUB LAMP and DROP PANTS (which I just now remembered to try) have no effect, and to my considerable relief neither does RUB PANTSMOVE BED and MOVE WATERBED are also unproductive. 

We've got some more exploring to do, so we'll continue mapping.  East of the Sultan's chambers are the Eunuch's Quarters.  We can pick up a pink pillow with a heart embroidered on it here; there's a one-way passage north to the harem room, and we can travel east to the Fountain Garden where a tinkling fountain adjoins a beckoning copper door to the east.

North of the fountain is the Concubine's Quarters, where the Sultan's wives live and A lovely girl named SALOME especially tempts you.  We can TAKE SALOME -- which just puts her in inventory.  Travel West takes us through another one-way passage to the Harem Room -- the design is clearly meant to get us trapped there at some point -- and the only other exit is south, back to the fountain garden.  I do try to OPEN DOOR here, but YOU HAVEN'T DONE SOMETHING ELSE YET, this engine's all-purpose response when some pre-condition has not been met.

More mapping remains -- east of the Grand Hall is the Hall of Mirrors, where we can glimpse a reflection of the Princess.  This proves to be the southwest corner of a 3 x 3 maze that contains a jeweled dagger.  We can also explore up and down from a couple of rooms; there are about 16 rooms in the maze, with some one-way loopbacks, but the only item I find here is the dagger, and it can be located on the main floor without going into any of the mazier passages.

It feels like we've mapped everything that's not behind a blocked passageway now, so it's time to see if we can solve some puzzles.  That whole DROP PANTS business is intriguing, so I try it with Salome in our company in the harem room and the Sultan's bedchamber, with no results.  But in the guards' brothel, that sultry girl comes into play -- as she performs unmentionable acts upon your body, between gulps she mutters the magic word SHAZAM.  So that's not really unmentioning them, is it?  But this gives us something new to try.

I get lucky on my first attempt, as SAY SHAZAM opens the copper door by the fountain, so we can OPEN DOOR and then go E to the Exit from Palace.  Unfortunately, the game seems to think we shouldn't be doing this yet, and unceremoniously crashes with the magic words ERROR-136 AT LINE 3070.  So I'll have to restore to an earlier point using an emulator save state, as this engine has no SAVE command -- this is ameliorated to a degree by the lack of fatal situations in most of the APX games, but unforeseeable dead ends still can and do occur.

Returning to the bedchamber, I can't TALK to SALOME, but I manage to ASK SALOME and she screams the magic word SESAMESAY SESAME produces the unexpected response YOU CAN'T SAY A SESAME, but OPEN SESAME (which we might have guessed on our own) opens the wall.  This leads us west into the Treasure Chamber, filled with gems and gold, as well as a seven-headed Hydra blocking a stairway down. 

The parser won't let us try to KILL HYDRA or THROW DAGGER, but we can WAVE DAGGER and it steps out of our way; apparently the bejeweled weapon belongs to its master, confusing the dreaded beast.  This allows us to enter the Torture Chamber below, where escape is your only thought.  We can escape back Up to the treasure room, but it's more interesting to head South into some Subterranean Caverns, a small cluster of similar rooms with a boulder blocking the way south in the southwest corner.  We can't MOVE BOULDER, but if we RUB LAMP a genie appears and rolls the boulder aside with a magic word.

Ah!  This is how we reach the Princesses [sic] Room, where there is but one Princess who won't leave with us until we gain her trust.  What do we have in inventory?  Maybe the heart-embroidered pillow?  DROP PILLOW doesn't do it, and we can't GIVE PILLOW, though the parser's response suggests we can give her something else.  GIVE SCIMITAR and GIVE DAGGER don't work, and neither does anything else we have in inventory.  And we can't leave without the princess, so once we're here we're stuck!  Time for another save state restore.

So what have I missed?  I start rechecking my mapping, and shortly discover that I didn't try to go Up from the entrance hall, to the Guard's Tower.  We can hear voices in the distance here, and if we LISTEN... no, LISTEN VOICES... no, LISTEN GUARDS... hmmm.  Can we get a HINT?  Yes -- Listen carefully!  And now I notice that THERE IS A CAREFULLY HERE in the room, apparently a limitation of this engine; it has to have a pseudo-object present so we can LISTEN CAREFULLY.  We hear that SULTAN ABDUL IS A EUNUCH.  I guess this is a state secret or something?  This information might be a relief to the Princess, but it doesn't seem like an artifact I can carry with me to gain her trust.

Anything else?  Aha!  I missed another vertical passage -- D from the Sultan's Bedchamber is a Chamber of Horrors, where a wizened head lies on a shelf covered with webs.  We can TAKE HEAD, which, erm, suggests... uh-oh... really, Mr. Koble?

Yep.  We enter the Princess' room, and GIVE HEAD, and The Princess now likes you and will go with you.  We TAKE PRINCESS, return to the fountain garden's exit door, and... I get the same error as before.

AH!  After I dig into the BASIC code a bit, I realize that the on-disk data file is corrupted, and the game's attempt to read the description and hint text for this room is actually failing.  So the copy of Sultan's Palace included on the Marketing Adventure disk is corrupt.  Fortunately, I'm able to find and run a clean corruption-free version with a slightly different version of the engine -- I get a different color scheme, and a much more satisfying ending!  Victory is ours!

These APX games are generally not too difficult -- although the limited parser doesn't help, it does keep the puzzles on the simple side.  And this one is interesting as an artifact of the days when a company like Atari wouldn't raise an eyebrow, or perhaps even know about, potentially controversial humor in one of its products.  There are a few more of these adventures in the Atari archives, though I plan to take a break to play something more substantial before I continue there.  Onward!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Sleazy Adventure (1981)

This week, we're embarking on a Sleazy Adventure from 1981 -- another Atari Program eXchange release for the 8-bit Atari home computers, using the same in-house BASIC engine as several other APX games released around the same time.  This one was written by Bob Smith, and features an unusual theme -- it charges the player with sailing a friend's new sailboat back from Thailand, knowing that you can use it to import contraband.  Apparently the contraband will be treated as treasure!

Interested readers are welcome to enjoy a Sleazy Adventure of their own before reading my notes below -- if anyone does and manages to reach a more concrete ending than I did, I'd be very interested to hear about it.  Everyone is of course welcome to read my about my playthrough experience in the remainder of this post -- just be advised that there are going to be plenty of...

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

We start out at Bangkok International Airport with nothing in inventory but a passport (though even this doesn't show up in our Inventory, so it must be a permanent item in our possession.)  The only exits turn out to be Down, into the Sewer, and South, to the Marketplace.

I'll check out the sewer first, just to see if the sewers are meant to be significant to the story.  We can travel east into More Sewer, and TAKE the waterproof FLASHLIGHT floating here.  We have immediate need for it as we continue walking east, where we must TURNON FLASHLIGHT to discover that we're in the City Cesspool.

The game gets a little buggy here -- it suggests we are going to have to contract typhoid before we leave the cesspool, and a re-Look tells us THERE IS A TYPHOID HERE.  We also see the initial descriptions of a Sleazy Nightclub and a Back Alley, though that's not where we are yet, so this disk image may be slightly corrupted or the data file is missing some end-of-data markers.

With no other grand plans or high stakes this early in the game, I TAKE TYPHOID and on the next move find myself in the Hospital, where we have been brought to recover.  We now have to cure ourselves of the typhoid before we can leave the hospital to the south; no other exits are available, though we are told There is a small amount of poison here and we can TAKE POISON (which fortunately just puts it in inventory.)

Fortunately, the game's strange logic here is consistent -- we can simply DROP TYPHOID, and You improve 100 percent, and feel able to walk again.  We are now free to go south, out of the hospital and into an Alley where tourists seek unsavory entertainment, though it doesn't seem we can interact with them.

We can walk south again to discover an Unconscious Sailor and TAKE his WALLET (unlike many adventure game protagonists, our character here is notably amoral.)  West of the Alley is a Sleazy Alley, fulfilling all of the stereotypes of 1980s Thailand -- open gutters, starving dogs, nightly killings.  North of the Sleazy Alley is a Back Alley, with a 2 baht coin lying on the ground for the taking, so we'll TAKE COIN.

The game world's descriptions are brief, but its map is fairly large -- we can travel further north to a Dirty Alcove, where we see a small, ragged waif, and smell a sweet odor coming from behind a doorway (apparently to the west -- as in the other games using the APX engine, we have to navigate experimentally and that's the only valid but blocked exit here.)  DROP COIN doesn't produce any effect; the waif is apparently not a doorman, or at least not one who can be bought for 2 baht.

The dirty alcove is otherwise a dead end, so we'll return to the back alley and travel west to a Sleazy Nightclub where a pervert in feathers makes crude offers in your ear.  We can visit the Backstage area to the south, where we see half dressed females and midgets selling drugs.  This area doesn't seem to serve any real purpose beyond atmosphere, and it links back to the sleazy alley to the east.

South of the sleazy alley is a Sleazy Bar, with a sign reading "SHANGAI HAVEN" and drunken sailors everywhere.  We can travel east back to the unconscious sailor; I notice that most of these locations allow us to go D into the sewer, but we always emerge back at the Marketplace, so we'll try to avoid that detour and backtracking cycle as much as possible.

Where haven't we been yet?  East of the drunken sailor is a River Bank.  This, we are informed, is the edge of the city.  Southward lies the forest, the ocean, and ADVENTURE.  Before we go there, in case we can't return, we'll check out anything obviously left undone here.  As it turns out, the waif in the dirty alcove won't do anything when we DROP COIN, but stands aside when we DROP WALLET.

Now we can access a Hovel, where a boy offers an aromatic package that he assures us is a rare, costly, and potent incense.  Incense, right.  But we'll TAKE INCENSE anyway.  And it turns out, probably due to design oversight, we can TAKE WALLET again on our way past the waif.

Any other areas to explore?  East of the marketplace are some Rice Paddies that continue for miles and miles.  East of the river bank is a Lumber Mill, containing a bundle of rare ebony; we can't TAKE BUNDLE but we can TAKE EBONY.

The lumber mill reconnects to the rice paddies to its north, and this looks like a maze so we'd probably better map it out and acquire any goodies within.  Except... it turns out this isn't really a maze, just a dead end location meant to suggest endless fields that we needn't (and can't) go exploring.  We can't TAKE RICE, either.

Well, we have some incense and ebony to smuggle home, so let's see what happens to the south.  We find ourselves in a Teak Forest -- but we are lost, and dare not go further.  All other exits are currently blocked, and the text helpfully informs us that "A pervert at the nightclub has maps."  Ah, those scandalous cartographers!

I go back to the sleazy nightclub and try to DROP WALLET, DROP COIN, and TAKE OFFER to no avail -- HINT suggests that we HUMOR IT (IT being used as a non-gender-specific pronoun, something the language is still struggling with three decades on.)  HUMOR PERVERT is indeed the right course of action -- a map appears in an outstreched [sic] hand, and we can now TAKE MAP.

We can't READ MAP immediately -- THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE -- but if we do that in the teak forest, the exits open up; The way to go is still not obvious, but you are no longer lost.

East brings us to a Clearing, where a blind mendicant begs for donations.  DROP COIN prompts him to reveal himself as a monk from the Shrine nearby, and he teaches you a mantra to say.  Inside the Shrine to the east, a passage leads down; SAY MANTRA has no effect here, though.

I head down into the Meditation Room, a vast underground cavern, and find the way out now blocked by chanting monks.  There's a large gold disk here, suspended by wires, with a padded hammerlike affair nearby.  I can't TAKE HAMMER or TAKE INSTRUMENT or TAKE AFFAIRHINT suggests that if we don't know any mantras we should try SYSTEM RESET -- After you strike the gong, of courseSAY MANTRA clears the passage back the way we came, so we aren't trapped.  But now I'm curious -- saving the emulator state first (as the game has no SAVE function of its own), I STRIKE GONG -- and a gold Buddha appears at our feet.  We can TAKE BUDDHA, though it does seem to be heavy.

We can TAKE COIN from the blind mendicant as we exit -- there probably isn't any reason to do this, just a design oversight that allows us to.  I'll head west of the forest entry point now, before going any further south, to visit Sheena's Hut.  The Tanya Roberts movie version of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle was relatively current when this game was produced, and we're advised against taking advantage of the woman in a leopard suit standing here.  HUMOR SHEENA causes her to sigh, and open the door, but I'm not sure that's meaningful.  We'll have to come back here once we think of something to do (and yes, I did try a few of the obvious verbs, but this Sleazy Adventure proved insufficiently sleazy to recognize them.)

There are no other exits here, so we'll go to the Dock south of the teak forest.  Here we see our sailboat moored a little distance off shore, and are advised: If you have everything you want, step into the dinghy on the south side of the dock.  This seems like a point of no return, so I'll save the emulator state here.

We can go D from the dock to find ourselves Overboard, splashing around, but can readily climb back up into the Dinghy.  We find ourselves rowing in circles around the sailboat.  I try to BOARD BOAT and GO SAILBOAT and COME ABOARD (per the location description) but finally figure out we can just go U to reach the boat's cockpit.

The first thing we should do, the game urges us, is to GRAB HANDRAIL.  Doing so informs us that aboard ship, we must navigate with Fore, Aft, Port and Starboard.  The first thing we're supposed to do is drop the mooring line, but we'll try to explore a little bit before we set sail.  We can't travel port or starboard here without falling into the water.  Aft is blocked, but we can move Fore to the Cabintop, the place to sleep in the sun after we're under way.  We can travel fore once more to reach the Foredeck, where a cleat for securing the mooring line exists in the bow of the boat.  I TAKE MOORING LINE and DROP MOORING LINE -- it disappears into the water, which was probably the wrong thing to do... ?  But I can TAKE MOORING LINE again, so maybe not.  I can't SECURE or TIE it up, at least.  And if I drop it elsewhere, the cleat seems to move with it, so this isn't a deeply implemented sort of puzzle.

HINT suggests that we need to hoist the jib after dropping the mooring line, but when I try to HOIST JIB, I'm told that I DON'T SEE ANY JIB HERE.  Clearly my seamanship is lacking, as I'm not actually sure what a jib is, though I'm sure it is in dire need of hoisting.

We can go D from the cockpit to the Companionway below-decks area.  Aft is the Masters Quarters, our bunk for the next few weeks, and there's a suggestive woodcut on the aft bulkhead.  MOVE WOODCUT reveals a secret compartment, described as, erm, a damp, secret place here!  Ah -- this is where we are meant to hide contraband, it seems, as when we walk into the Secret Compartment, we are advised that It is downright wet in here, so you'd better wrap anything of value.  We are allowed to WRAP BUDDHA and WRAP INCENSE, but the others are apparently okay as-is or aren't contraband.  I drop these items in the secret compartment, hoping this will keep them away from prying eyes.  I try to MOVE WOODCUT again to close up the compartment, but that's not supported so I guess I'll just have to hope it's invisible. 

We'll go fore a few times now to reach the Galley, where a hole leads down into the Hold, and a passage fore reaches the Sail Locker, where we can TAKE JIB and TAKE MAINSAIL.  The hold is purportedly great for cargo, so I'll DROP EBONY here and see if that passes muster should we run into any authorities.

I return above deck and HOIST JIB at the foredeck, as the boat begins to move.  I can't find a place to HOIST MAINSAIL until I climb U from the cabintop to the Mast.

Now the sailboat is ready to sail, and I can access the Helm aft of the cockpit, where I am supposed to give steering instructions.  I have no idea where we're going, really, and trying to READ the large COMPASS here suggests only that The oceans are your gateway.

Aha!  The act of reading the compass seems to shift the game into a new mode.  We can no longer navigate aft/port/starboard/fore at this point -- we're stuck at the helm, and are only allowed to enter compass directions for steering the ship.  I discover this accidentally after seeing that Aft no longer works, and trying to go South instead, only to find the boat entering the Gulf of Siam.  I end up bumbling my way back to the San Francisco Bay, and south to a Dock.  Home sweet home?

As we dock, we are greeted by an IRS agent, an art dealer, a DEA agent, and Hunter S. Thompson, famous gonzo journalist and drug enthusiast.  So how do we deal with these folks?  HINT only tells us that if no one is here, the computer's SYSTEM RESET button will end the game so we can try again.  Is there any action we're supposed to take here, or is this in fact victory?

I can't seem to re-board the boat now that we're on dry land, in order to sell or get caught red-handed with any of my hard-smuggled contraband, so I restore to an earlier state and see if I can greet the welcoming party with more stuff in hand.  While exploring, I discover the Bilges aft of the hold, where the GIANT RAT OF SUMATRA lives.  (My research indicates that this is a 1924 Sherlock Holmes reference, though I personally first encountered this creature in the annals of The Firesign Theatre.)  We DROP POISON, and the creature nibbles it and dies in its sleep; we have to MOVE RAT before we can access the Secret Hold.  Interesting -- this boat is full of secrets!  We can WRAP EBONY here, where we couldn't in the secret compartment, and DROP EBONY.

I confirm my earlier, luck-driven route home on this second try -- S, E, E, N, S, S.  This time, we have added several eager cabinetmakers to the parties from before, so I'm going to assume that victory is ours:

I am still not sure this is the best possible situation, so I check one more time to see if putting the Buddha and incense in the secret hold instead of the secret compartment makes any difference, but it doesn't seem to.  I dig into the game's data files and the only person missing seems to be a US Customs agent suspecting I'm importing illegal wood.  But we can't seem to TAKE TEAK in the lumber mill or the teak forest, so that doesn't really seem to be something I'm missing, and the contradictory presence of other law enforcement agencies right next to customers with an interest in the same goods suggests the game's logic here is a little confused.

So I'm going to call this Sleazy Adventure finished -- it is giving us a traditional congratulatory message just for making it back here, and the only victory condition the ending suggests is that we have not been victorious if absolutely nobody is here to greet us.  There doesn't seem to be any more gameplay available, despite this engine's presentation of infinite prompts with no real ending implemented.  I'm calling this one done!  Next!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Alien Egg (1981)

This week, I'm playing another Atari 400/800 text adventure published through APX, the Atari Program Exchange, in 1981.  I had heard of Alien Egg back in the day but hadn't run across it yet, and I found it by chance under the unofficial title "SPCSHP" on the same disk as Rob Fulop's Marketing Adventure.  This one was written by Robert Zdybel and uses the same engine.

As I noted last week, this engine was apparently an in-house Atari project.  It features a very basic two-word parser -- text simply scrolls up the screen, exits aren't listed, there's no EXAMINE verb and no GET, only TAKE, but at least we can tell which verbs and nouns the dictionary does and does not recognize.

The object of Alien Egg is not too different from some other space-themed adventures of this era -- we're to find an alien's egg on its home planet, and return it to our spaceship's bio-lab for analysis.  The game is fairly grounded in plausible science fiction, though at least one of the puzzles might as well involve magic for all the sense it makes.

Interested readers are encouraged to recover the Alien Egg firsthand before proceeding here -- the game is not too difficult, though the hardcore are advised that the HINT command really is needed, in part to make up for the lack of EXAMINE.  Beyond this point I will be discussing my own playthrough experience in detail, for the sake of documenting the history of these games.  And that means there are sure to be...

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

We begin in the Astro-Navigation Room, alone on the spacecraft.  There's a hatch in the floor, and a light on the console is flashing red.  We can't open the hatch (YOU HAVEN'T DONE SOMETHING ELSE YET) and we have nothing in inventory, so we'll do some exploring.

Heading north takes us to the Reactor Control Room, where a "REMEMBER THREE-MILE ISLAND!" poster on the wall reminds us when this adventure was produced; the reference already seems dated and out of synch with the game's otherwise futuristic trappings.  There's a reactor control rod sticking out of the console, and a large red caution notice.  We can READ NOTICE: "DANGER, PROTECT EXPOSED SKIN SURFACES."  That seems like wise advice near a nuclear reactor.

We can head Up from the reactor room to a Billiards Room -- The human race must be civilized after all!  North of the billiards room we find the Crew's Bunks, all neatly made by the crew before their mysterious and untimely disappearance

West of the bunks is the Galley, piled high with dirty dishes.  A secured crawlway above is marked with a sign: "ACCESS TO SECURE AREAS CONTROLED [sic] BY VOICE COMMAND."

This engine makes mapping difficult, because there's no auto-listing of exits and the game's text doesn't usually tell us anything either, so we have to bump into or through possible walls a lot to find all the possible pathways.  I'm at risk of losing track, so I'm going to backtrack a little bit and make sure I'm being thorough in checking the six possible exits from each room (N, S, E, W, U and D.)

Above the crew's sleeping area we find the Captain's Bunk, containing a thin access-privelege [sic] card that ought to come in handy.  North is the Chemistry Lab, where an overturned jar of crystals sounds significant based on its description but is not apparently portable.

Continuing upward from the Chemistry Lab -- there are a lot of up/down connections in this map -- we find the Biology Lab, which the intro has informed us we'll need to visit to finish the adventure.  A pamphlet here suggests that the aliens are scared of small furry creatures, almost certainly a hint for facing said aliens.

We can travel east from the chemistry lab into the Observatory, where a large viewport displays the cratered surface of the alien planet upon which we are parked.  The security crawlway above is securely bolted, but we'll TAKE the battery operated LAMP here (and avoid turning it on until we absolutely need to, based on past adventuring experience.)

It looks like I've explored everything here, except the blocked security crawlway, so I'll start backing out.  Checking navigation in the crew's bunks, I find a downward path to a Weapon Locker, unfortunately empty of weapons.  A book here can be taken, but READ BOOK yields only THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE, which my experience with this engine suggests means we have to read it at a certain place and/or time.  We'll keep it with us until we figure that out, anyway.

Traveling north of the weapon locker returns us to the Astro-Navigation Room, our starting location, so the map is starting to feel a little more complete.  I close another loop by discovering the Needle-Shower room, which uses no water, and can be reached from the Galley to the north and the Billiards Room to the east.  There's a Captain's cap here, which we can take with us, but there's no WEAR verb so it doesn't appear we'll be impersonating an officer.

We're closing out more of the map now... D from the Needle-Shower takes us to the Ship's Zoo, where an unlicensed Tribble sits near a dragon-like beast breathing fire, though the creature doesn't bother us if we want to TAKE TRIBBLED from the Galley takes us to the Space Suit Closet, where we can obtain a clean space suit that fits, and it reconnects to the Astro-Navigation Room to the west.

What next?  We can't OPEN HATCH in the navigation room yet.  Can we remove the cooling rod from the reactor room?  Nope, TAKE ROD is not permitted, and the parser won't understand PUSH or PULL ROD.

Can we figure out how to operate the voice-activated security system in the galley?  SAY OPEN and SAY ACCESS don't work.  But I can READ the access CARD we found earlier, on which is written GEMCO.  But drat the luck, SAY GEMCO has no effect here either.

Perhaps due to the lack of an EXAMINE verb, this engine sometimes relies on HINT to provide information not otherwise available.  Typing HINT in the biology lab, for example, reveals that a sign is present, even if we don't exactly need this confirmed: "Alien organisms to be placed here."  So maybe I need to look for hints in more areas to see what the possibilities are, and I realize that there's a quirky context-sensitivity here -- we have to L(ook) in each room to trigger a change in the HINT text, otherwise it just repeats the previous hint.

This gets interesting -- in the crew's bunks, HINT tells us that "The Captain's cap belongs in his cabin."  And when I DROP CAP there, a secret panel opens to reveal a cassette recorder.  PLAY RECORDER yields the word, "WARNER."  I suppose this could be figured out without the hint, just by painful trial and error, but this is the game's only puzzle that makes little practical sense.

We don't have to use the tape after hearing the word -- there's no voiceprint technology at work, so we can just SAY WARNER ourselves in the galley, causing the security crawlway to open, leading to the main computer room above.  The entire cabin is filled with the weird sounds that seem to characterize fictitious computers -- very observant, Mr. Zdybel!  We can acquire an extra-heavy duty radiation-proof glove here, and there are no other exits from this room so that must be why we're here.

We still can't TAKE ROD, even with the glove?  Hmmm.  And WEAR isn't recognized.  HINT in the reactor room suggests, "NO MORE NUKES! .. SHUT 'EM DOWN."  So that appears to be a clear goal.  HINT in the billiards room suggests we need to read the book here -- it turns out to be "Theory and Practice of ZERO-G Billiards," by Mork from Ork.  Man, I still miss Robin Williams.  But what is this supposed to accomplish?  It seems to have no obvious impact, and we can't PLAY BILLIARDS so I suspect this is just for entertainment purposes.

What about the access card?  I try to WAVE CARD, INSERT CARD and USE CARD, but none of these verbs are recognized near the security crawlways, in the control rooms or in the computer room.

Interesting... an idle attempt to READ GLOVE reveals a label: "Edward Teller Autograph Series," like collectible baseball gloves; Teller was a physicist.  I still can't push or pull the control rod with the glove, but MOVE ROD pushes it in, and the reactor shuts down.

Now we can open the hatch and enter the Reactor Room, finding ourselves on a catwalk high above the reactor (which appears to still be operating -- in fact, we're told that our eyesight is quick enough to visualize tachyons!)  We can access an Airlock with a card slot to the north, the Engine Room to the west, a Tool Shed to the south, and a Hydroponic Garden to the east.  I acquire a small silver key in the garden and an aluminum ladder in the tool shed.  HINT in the engine room notes that the engine's serial number is filed off, so it's probably stolen, but I think that's just another little joke.

The Airlock's card slot appears designed for the access card, but I still can't WAVE or USE or INSERT CARD.  Aha!  We just need to OPEN AIRLOCK -- in fact, it seems we don't actually have to have the card with us, so the access slot may not really have been implemented.

The airlock opens to reveal the planet below, and we can go D to explore the planet's Endless Plain.  The airlock after we disembark is now high above, and perhaps unreachable, but we can DROP LADDER to fix that.  There's a cave here, but the entrance is blocked by a boulder and we can't explore anywhere else.

I return to the Observatory and try to SAY GEMCO here -- SAY WARNER didn't work, and I could have sworn I tried this earlier, but this opens up the crawlway leading to the ship's nose cone.  A large Vegan spider is here -- from the star Vega, I guess, since if it doesn't consume animal products we're safer than we're meant to feel -- spinning a web in the corner, and we see a large mahogany chest, locked and covered with cobwebs.

With the silver key, we can UNLOCK CHEST and find a blaster inside.  That might come in handy!  The spider doesn't actually harass us, so we're free to go try this blaster out on that boulder.  Except we can't SHOOT BOULDER; we must FIRE BLASTER.

We head D into the cave, where IT IS TOO DARK TO SEE ANY DETAIL, but we're ready for that and can use this engine's non-standard TURNON LAMP to gain some light.  We can head north from the cave entrance to the Diamond Room, where a splendid diamond is as large as a hen's egg and just as valuable.  This seems to suggest that in the world of Alien Egg, either chickens have become scarce, or diamonds have become common.

I travel north into the Stalactite Room, and north again to a... Bottomless Pit?  We fall infinitely downward, it seems, and there's no way back -- HINT "helpfully" confirms this -- so I'll have to restore (and I am grateful for emulator save states, as the hint can only suggest hitting SYSTEM RESET!)

Heading east from the diamond room this time, we find the Stalagmite Room, where "some of them look as old as Ronald Reagan."  Ah, vintage 1980s humor!  There's also a full-grown alien here, guarding the entrance to it's [sic] lair.  But we read that pamphlet earlier, so we correctly predict that we can DROP TRIBBLE and frighten it out of the cave.

We're now free to enter the Lair, and TAKE the leathery alien EGG here, hoping it's not going to launch a facehugger, and breathing a sigh of relief when the pickup is uneventful.  I TAKE TRIBBLE again on the way out, just in case; clearly we're not meant to confront the full-grown alien, just collect a young one for scientific research.  What could go wrong?

Now I think we just need to take the egg to the bio-lab... I grab the diamond on the way, but am surprised we can't CLOSE AIRLOCK on the way back into the ship.  I don't run into the alien again, and I guess the airlock isn't critical because we don't actually have to take off.  All we have to do is DROP EGG in the designated location, and victory is ours!

I'd like to think I have been a FULL-FLEDGED ADVENTURER for a while now, but the game is over with a satisfactory ending.  One odd thing about this parser is that it can't apparently really end a game -- even when we win, the engine just keeps taking input, and I never ran into any truly fatal scenarios.  There are a couple more of these Atari Program Exchange adventures in the archives, and I may continue with those while I still have the APX parser's quirks fresh in my mind.

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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise (1993)

I was considering tackling another game in one of Humongous Entertainment's series of Junior Adventures this week, when it occurred to me that I've never played Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise.  This 1993 game, directed by the company's co-founder Ron Gilbert (The Secret of Monkey Island), was released during Humongous' early years, and was meant to launch another series, I assume.  But that never happened for reasons that, in my opinion at least, will shortly become very evident.

This title was released around the same time as Putt-Putt's second outing, Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon, and uses the same 320x200 VGA version of Lucasarts' SCUMM point-and-click adventure game engine.  The music is MIDI-based, but is so well arranged I didn't realize this until I'd been playing for quite a while.  Like all the HE titles, Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise is fully-voiced, though the animation is more limited than would become the norm as the company's products and budgets evolved.

Interested readers are encouraged to play this simple children's adventure, if only to see where the style goes wrong compared to HE's more successful outings.  It's still readily available via Steam at a reasonable price, using the ScummVM engine to maintain compatibility with modern systems.  Beyond this point, I intend to spoil what fun there is to be had here as I ask, "What were they thinking?"  In other words, there are bound to be...

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

The story opens as Fatty Bear's owner Kayla goes to sleep on the eve of her birthday, bidding him a fond, "I love you, Fatty Bear," as she drifts off to dreamland.  The story immediately takes a visually jarring turn as the jolly, plump plush toy Fatty Bear comes to animated life, with his formerly black button eyes acquiring pupils that make him look like Little Orphan Annie.  This whole opening sequence comes off as creepier than intended -- all of the toys seem possessed rather than alive, with Gretchen the Dutch doll retaining toy-like facial features and joints, while Matilda Rabbit has no pupils at all and brings Donnie Darko inevitably to mind.

Notwithstanding all this weirdness, Fatty Bear soldiers on as though nothing strange is happening.  He tells us he needs to make Kayla a birthday cake; Gretchen wants to make a sign for her, and Matilda Rabbit flies off to the kitchen to start work on the cake, levitating by spinning her ears like a helicopter, or by utilizing all the powers of Satan, depending on whether one has recovered from witnessing Fatty Bear's unholy transformation.  I'm exaggerating here, but I'm also not making this up -- there's a dark moodiness to the art direction and music that lends an unsettling texture to the innocent gameplay; the story takes place overnight, to be sure, but the cheery day-glo cartoon colors of the Putt-Putt games are sorely missed here.

As in the other Humongous Entertainment games, we can click on various things in every room -- though, again, seeing these objects come to life while a little human girl is sleeping nearby comes off as scarily paranormal rather than comical.  A rocker in the corner creaks with an invisible occupant, for example, and we can interactively decorate Mr. Veggie Head with various noses and eyes, to create... yes, this is all pretty bizarre:

In the study next to Kayla's room, we can cause books to fly around the room with Fatty's telekinetic powers, for now such we must presume them to be.  He can also bring a couple of statues to life, but there doesn't seem to be anything useful we can really do in here.

Down the hall are more sleeping humans, blissfully unaware of the creeping plushness wandering about in the dark, as Fatty says: "That's the grown-ups' room.  I'd better be quiet!"  We can actually safely make quite a bit of noise by clicking on stuff, but the only interesting thing to do is stab them to death in their sleep sneak into their closet and turn the light on and off.

 A room at the end of the hall is locked -- a mouse darts out of an oversized hole in the door with a tempting key, but scampers away again before Fatty can grab it.  We probably need some bait, so we'll explore elsewhere for now.

In the bathroom, we can hop in the laundry chute, the only way to the basement, where we pick up a garage door opener that somehow ended up in the laundry basket.  Fatty's cheerful "Now I can get in the garage!" sounds more menacing than it ought to, as I picture Fatty firing up the family car and gassing the family with carbon monoxide.  His overalls aren't helping either, as they make him look rather too much like Chucky of Child's Play fame.  A big part of the problem is that Fatty Bear seems to be actively causing the paranormal phenomena in the house to occur -- he seems gleefully responsible, whereas in the other Humongous titles these little animations are more humorous, and fueled by little critters with personalities clearly independent of the main character.

From the basement, we can go up through the cellar door to the house's backyard.  The music and the darkness out here seem intentionally scary now.  What is it about this game?  We can climb up into a book depository treehouse, where a telescope allows us to fuel our rage at Kayla's family see Putt-Putt on the moon, a plug for his own game that came out around the same time.

We can do a little lawn bowling in the yard for fun, and visit the garden where Fatty Bear buries his victims unearths some silly anthropomorphic carrots that we would probably need a net or trap to catch, though this isn't actually a puzzle, just fun to watch.  We can't get back into the cellar from the outside, so we'll go around front.

The view at the front of the house looks a lot like the opening of Uninvited -- maybe it's the camera angles that make so much of this game look foreboding rather than friendly.  We can ride a skateboard, for fun, and use the garage door opener to enter the garage (thankfully, detached from the rest of the house, allaying my earlier fears.) 

There's some sugar stored in the garage, of all places -- it's too high to reach, but a stepladder here solves that problem with minimal trial or error.  Now we'll reenter the house -- the front door is unlocked, or, one suspects, its lock succumbs to Fatty's powers as he has already been invited in -- and check out the parlor.  An answering machine still has a message from Kayla's dad, who was picking up her present at the pet store.  We can make a painted ship in a picture on the wall sink, sacrificing the lives of countless acrylic innocents to satisfy Fatty Bear's dark masters.

A piano allows us to play with sampled sounds to play familiar public domain children's songs, and actually compose little songs on blank pages if we like.  Funeral dirges seem appropriate, somehow, but we aren't required to do anything specific here, it's just a fun little side activity.

When we enter the kitchen, Matilda Rabbit is on hand to advise, and Fatty automatically leaves the sugar on the counter -- the game doesn't require much actual inventory manipulation, taking care of those details in many cases to keep young players from getting frustrated by mechanics.  We can review the recipe for the birthday cake -- Fatty notes that the first thing we still need is a mixing bowl, but we'll also have to round up some eggs, milk, butter, chocolate chips and vanilla.  We can find a few tools in the cupboard, and turn on the kitchen faucets long enough to make a puddle on the floor, probably to help ensure somebody has a slip-and-fall accident (we can also cause a mop to emerge from under the sink to clean it up, but we're not forced to do this.)  We can also find chocolate chips, vanilla, and baking powder in the cupboards up high.

The refrigerator contains butter, eggs and milk, but not much else, suggesting more subtle mischief afoot as Fatty Bear wastes the family's limited foodstores on frivolous cake.  He also opens Kayla's birthday present, letting the puppy roam free until we can catch her and wrap her back up, for which we'll need some replacement purple ribbon.

We can snag some cheese from the refrigerator as well -- we don't need it for the cake, thank goodness, but maybe we can use it to get that key for the upstairs hall.  Yes, the mouse happily exchanges the key for the cheese, and now we can enter the room to find (in addition to plenty of mouse droppings, we assume) an attic with lots of antique junk in it.  What do we need here?  I don't find anything portable, oddly enough.  Outside in the hall, though, there's now a letter "R" hanging below a portrait on the wall, so we'll pick that up to help with Gretchen's birthday sign.

Returning to the kitchen, we see the puppy here, but can't get her back into the present box without something we don't have.  We also learn from Matilda that the puppy has run off with some of Gretchen's letters, as already discovered, and she needs our help upstairs.  Checking on our cake progress while we're here, we can complete a few steps but are soon stymied by a lack of measuring spoons.  Matilda mentioned earlier that she saw Kayla playing with them, so we'll go back to her room for a bit.

As we enter, Gretchen confirms that three letters have been stolen by the puppy, though the "R" we found a little while ago appears to be one of them so we only have two more to track down.  She also asks Fatty to blow up five party balloons, but after three are done, the loose puppy keeps running into the room and popping one.  I put the "R" on the sign, and it looks like we're missing an "A" and a "Y" now.

Looking around some more, I find a human-looking bone in the refrigerator, and use it to lure the puppy back into her box.  But we still need a new ribbon to keep the box closed.  Ah!  In the parents' closet, Fatty can climb up on a stack of boxes, then jump on a trampoline (these people apparently have some interesting bedroom habits) to bounce up to the top of the closet, pulling a green ribbon from the Bows'n'Ribbons box stored there.  Now the puppy can be kept back in the box, and one of our objectives is accomplished.  Maybe we should have taken her outside while she was free, but Fatty has no qualms about sealing her back inside a cardboard box with no visible airholes.

Revisiting the treehouse, I find the measuring spoons there -- I didn't recognize them and wasn't looking for them earlier.  I should be able to bake the cake now.  We mix everything up, and Matilda puts it in the oven, where it bakes almost instantly for the sake of moving the story along.  Now we're allowed to decorate the cake.  I should resist, I know, but I can't:

Matilda carries the cake up to Kayla's bedroom -- this Palpatine rabbit would be so much less disturbing if she had pupils in her eyes instead of those big blank spots on her face -- and that part of the puzzle is finished, though we're free to bake more cakes if we wish to for fun. 

Now we just need to find those last few letters for Gretchen's sign -- I suspect this is why there are some otherwise non-functional rooms on the map.  I get the rest of the balloons blown up while I'm looking around, now that the puppy is no longer alive free to pop them.

I have a harder time than I expected finding the other letters, actually!  I find the "Y" under the sofa in the living room.  The "A" finally turns up in the fish tank, almost the last place I could have looked after wandering through all the rooms in the game several times.  Well played, Mr. Gilbert.

Now it's suddenly time for Kayla's birthday!  Fatty Bear rushes back onto the bed, and his transformation back into a lifeless piece of plush is even more disturbing than his earlier transformation, as the unearthly lights in his eyes dim and his skeleton seems to vanish into the Hell from whence it came. 

Kayla wakes up, her Dad enters, and the puppy is immediately presented by running into the room.  The poor kid doesn't even get to unwrap the box we spent all that time working on, and for some strange reason she thanks Fatty Bear instead of her Dad.  Perhaps Dad is actually the sinister puppetmaster behind the night's curious events, especially as he seems unfazed at the blazing candles on the birthday cake and the balloons hovering menacingly at ceiling level despite being filled only with the non-existent breath of a plush, presumably lifeless teddy bear.

Fatty Bear winks at the camera as if to signify that Kayla's nightmare is only beginning, and the screen dims with a sense of foreboding as the credits roll.

Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise is not really much different from the early Putt-Putt games -- the goals and puzzles are similarly simple and easy to navigate.  But I have to conclude that Putt-Putt is simply a more appealing character than Fatty Bear, and the colorful cartoon Cartown universe better suited to children's entertainment than Fatty Bear's more realistic suburban nighttime environment.  I've exaggerated the stranger aspects of the game for fun here, obviously, but the game is genuinely more sombre and less fun all around than its sibling series.  The presence of actual human beings in the story pulls it back to earth in weird ways, and makes the game's goings-on a little suspect in the playing.  That may be why Putt-Putt went on to a long career, while Fatty Bear appeared only in a couple of mini-game compilations and cameos after this first outing.  But I'm glad I've played this Junior Adventure, if only to find my own answers to the questions surrounding Fatty Bear's short career at Humongous Entertainment.  Onward to cheerier tales!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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