Monday, November 18, 2019

Game 109: Softporn Adventure

Read the manual here:
https://www.mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=softporn-alt

There’s a WOZ copy available, but I ran into some crashes and freezes. After switching to a 4am crack DSK copy, my experience wasn’t exactly trouble-free, but I managed to reach the end.

Can’t say I’ve really been looking forward to this one. I know of this game only because it’s been cited as the inspiration behind Leisure Suit Larry, which I consider to be Sierra’s first unequivocally good adventure. Quite some time ago, I briefly played a DOS port that came with the Leisure Suit Larry collection, and found it to be familiar, but worse in every way. The locations, characters, items, and puzzles, from what I saw, were exactly as I remembered them, but with banal, flavorless writing, devoid of any character or humor, and with the same parser woes as early Sierra at its worst. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have thought this game was poorly imitating LSL!

Compare this dialog:



To this:



I’ll grant that the prose here is fairly vivid in describing the grimy hallway, not a patch on Infocom, but who was? But the line “THE GUY GIVES ME A TV CONTROLLER!!” evokes an image of a bored teenager remaking LSL in BASIC, copying the puzzles but not the form, character, or humor. I know designer Chuck Benton wasn’t pressed for space here as Scott Adams and his necessarily terse prose was; the disk had a capacity of 140KB, and he used a bit over half of it.

Speaking of Scott Adams, I’d say there’s a zero percent chance that the divided screen layout here wasn’t following the lead of his Adventureland engine.

The game was originally produced without Sierra’s involvement, self-published by Benton as “Blue Sky Software.” Sierra’s edition probably doesn’t change anything; all of the copies floating around credit Blue Sky Software rather than On-Line Systems, but the manual is a bit higher quality, and features that infamous cover art with Roberta Williams and two other women.

In either version, the manual sets the stage – it’s the year 2020, the world is on fire, the economy is in the gutter, and discount sin cities have popped up around the country, offering escape and debauchery to stressed-out white collar stiffs such as you. You’re visiting Lost Vagueness for the night with some goals – have some depraved fun, seduce three women, and survive!

As the game was originally released for the Apple II, I played that version. I started off as I always do – with Trizborting.

The starting location is a sleazy bar, with the hallway, and a bathroom with a dangerous looking toilet. The graffiti on the wall revealed some computer puns and a password:



I tried flushing the toilet just to see what would happen. It did warn me that the toilet “looked dangerous.”

Monty Hall sure raised the stakes!


I picked door 1, and got immediately dumped to a DOS prompt. I’m guessing that was the door to hell. A soft-reset restarted the game.
I went through the LSL motions from memory. Bought a whiskey, traded it for a remote control, collected some flowers and a ring from the hallway and bathroom, and then gave the pimp the password to get in. One thing found in the hallway not in LSL was a newspaper, the “Gambler’s Gazette,” telling me that the Adventurer’s Hotel offers Blackjack and slot machines, which can be played by typing “PLAY 21” or “PLAY SLOTS.” The businessman in the hallway can’t be talked to; in typical style of the adventures of the era it just says “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK SOMETHING!”, but looking at him reveals that “HE LOOKS LIKE A WHISKEY DRINKER.”

In the backroom, there was a pimp and a TV, but here was a first divergence from LSL; I couldn’t turn the TV on. The pimp just wouldn’t allow it.

Outside, you can HAIL TAXI to reach the game’s other areas; the casino and disco. Here, the taxi doesn’t seem to cost anything. I continued mapping while going through the LSL playthrough, taking note of things that were different in Softporn Adventure.

The pharmacy nearby the disco shoots you dead if you “get” stuff rather than “buy” it.



They also don’t sell wine, as far as I can tell, and the lad’s mag recommends picking up women by dancing and showering them with gifts.

The famous condom-shaming gag.

The casino has a harsh policy towards insolvency – as you enter, a big loser at the slots is carted off and exterminated for vagrancy. An influence on Space Quest 1, perhaps?

A plant in the hotel’s lobby conceals a secret entrance to a magic garden, complete with magic mushrooms.

The slots seem to offer slightly favorable odds, but are a slow way to make money.



Blackjack, on the other hand, lets you double your money with a win, but the odds of multiple consecutive wins are crummy, and if you wager everything and lose, you die. I went with slots, as you can be nearly assured your funds will go up as you keep playing it, without needing to savescum.

After visiting the casino to get money and the disco/pharmacy area to get a rubber (and grilled about contraceptive preferences), I returned to the bar backroom to put them both to good use. The pimp took my money as I went upstairs.

Softporn Adventure can be fairer than LSL sometimes, e.g. this caution sign.


Having “scored” once, I went to the disco with the flowers, ring, and the hooker’s candy.

A bit livelier than LSL’s dead disco scene.


Looking at the available disco girl


I gave the nameless conquest here the candy, flowers, hit the dance floor, and gave her the ring, and then my game crashed.



Reloading, I tried again, this time dancing before giving any gifts, and things proceeded as normal.



A telephone booth in the disco provided a bit more tomfoolery.



In exchange for the wine, the bum outside the disco gave me a knife and spun a yarn.



Then I got killed in a way that wasn’t signposted.



Reloading, I ditched the wine, eloped with the disco girl, and went back to the hotel, where the honeymoon suite was open. From the balcony, I engaged in some voyeurism:



Disco girl wanted some wine, but I already knew bringing it from the disco wasn’t safe. The radio on the balcony played an ad for liquor delivery, so I ordered from the casino, and came back to a kinky surprise (not really).



So I cut the rope with the bum’s knife, somehow. Unlike in LSL, I still had my money. I went back to the bar, and back to the pimp, who wouldn’t let me go back upstairs, but allowed me to turn on the TV this time. Channel-flipping through a bunch of dumb TV parodies eventually landed on an X-rated film “Deep Nostril” (ew), which distracted him and let me go upstairs. There I used the rope to secure myself to the hooker’s balcony and break into an apartment window, where I snatched some pills. Climbing down the fire escape dropped me into a smelly dumpster, where I found an apple core. No homeless Steve Jobs selling apples from a barrel in this version.

I also found that you can try to stab the pimp, but it doesn’t end well for you.



Back at the casino, I knew from LSL that I was supposed to give the pills to the voluptuous blonde at the hotel desk, but couldn’t find any ingame clues to this, so I just did it.



The unguarded elevator took me to the penthouse. There, I found a kitchen, with a cabinet I could reach by climbing a stool, containing a pitcher, which I filled with water from the sink. Upstairs was a closet with an inflatable doll, which I dutifully used to no obvious purpose. On the porch was a Jacuzzi and a ringing phone, the payoff of that brick joke from awhile back.

Later!


A girl named “Eve” (the only named character in the game!) allowed me into the Jacuzzi with her, but the game didn’t allow any interactions other than looking. I knew I had to give her an apple, and unsurprisingly, my apple core from the trash wasn’t good enough. Here, for the first and only time, I had to consult a guide.

To get the apple, you have to go into the magic garden at the hotel, plant seeds from the apple core, then water them, and an apple tree sprouts.

So I went back to Eve, gave her the apple, and things got biblical.



And that’s the end of the game.

I guess I found this more tolerable than I expected – I’d say it’s about on par with the Scott Adams adventures. The two-word parser was mostly cooperative, the game design is fairer than the Sierra games of the time with few dead-ends or ways to die without warning, and apart from the endgame the puzzles are completely reasonable, if on the easy side. But the writing is uneven, the humor is weak, and even without comparisons to Leisure Suit Larry – something I’m not sure I can completely avoid on a subconscious level – it just feels like it comes up short of its own ambitions, whatever those are.

Before Leisure Suit Larry, Sierra’s Japan-localization partner StarCraft, Inc, who previously remade Mystery House with improved graphics, remade this game as Las Vegas. This version, taking advantage of Japanese computers’ higher-resolution displays, features some really good artwork. Mobygames has a gallery, but it isn’t exactly SFW:
https://www.mobygames.com/game/las-vegas__/screenshots

To wrap things up, here’s a text dump of every use of the word “kinky” in the game:
A PASSERBY KILLS ME FOR WEARING MY KINKYRUBBER IN PUBLIC!

]LOOK BUSH
ENTERING THEM WOULD BE KINKY!!



THERE'S SOME KINKY GIRLS IN THIS TOWN!! 
AND YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU MAY NEED TO
USE THIS TO DEFEND YOURSELF!!!!!!!

THERE SHOWING THE KINKIEST X-RATED      

MOVIES!!!!!!! THIS ONE'S TITLED        
'DEEP NOSTRIL'.

I THRUST INTO THE DOLL- KINKY....EH???

AH...THERE GOES A FEMALE GERMAN SHEPARD!

THAT GIVES ME AN IDEA!................
KINKY DOG!!!!!! CHEWED ME TO DEATH!!!


My trizbort map:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ahab GABs

Well, I’ve decided to join the bandwagon of bloggers who rate games. I’d been thinking about this for a long time, but my stumbling block had always been finding a system that worked for me.

A GIMLET-like system was out of the question. There’s just no way to rate games of all genres based on a set of gameplay factors. How, exactly, would you compare Zork to Pac-Man? It would have become even more untenable when comparing games across multiple years, as gameplay features that simply didn’t exist in the early 80’s would become crucial to certain genres over time.

I also don’t really care for precise numeric-based systems for such subjective ratings. When one game scores 97% and another 92%, what does that really mean? Is it really necessary or meaningful to say, as PC Gamer did, that Deus Ex is 4% better than Thief: The Dark Project, but 1% worse than System Shock 2? I’m satisfied that they’re all terrific games, and don’t see how I could rank them like that.

After thinking about it for more than a year, and several failed experiments, I’ve put together something I’m happy with. I call it Ahab GABs, which stands for Good, Average, Bad. There’s a bit more nuance than simply putting the games into one of those three categories.

Good + Harpoon

“Good” games are games that elicited actual enjoyment from the gameplay, and not just through novelty or historical interest. They aren’t necessarily faultless – I can tolerate a lot of faults in a game if it offers something interesting to make up for it – but a game only enters “good” territory if I feel I can consciously recommend playing it nowadays.

Whales that score “Good,” that are significantly higher quality than other games with this score, may be awarded a harpoon to indicate their exceptionalism.

Average

Average games are either games without enough of a draw to elevate them into “good” territory, or otherwise “good” games with enough faults to harm my enjoyment of them.

Within this category, games may also be above average but not quite good, or below average but not quite bad.

Bad

Games without redeeming values, or games with enough flaws to cause me offense. I felt no further delineation among bad games was necessary.

Rating the first three-dozen games

Here’s my attempt to retroactively rate all of the games that I covered, prior to the 1979 phase of Data Driven Gamer. Most of them are not whales, and none get harpoons.

SpaceWar and Computer Space

SpaceWar really impressed me with its forward-thinking design, sophisticated physics, and high-resolution graphics, all in 1962. 1962! I can’t unequivocally recommend it or call it good, but rank it Above Average for sure.

Computer Space is up there with Pong in terms of historical importance, and is crying for an accurate emulator. The PDP-1 simulator at Mass:werk where I played SpaceWar also runs a Computer Space remake which is reasonably faithful, but isn’t the same thing. I have played the real thing at ACAM, several times, and can’t really call it anything better than Average.

Pong, Breakout, etc.

Pong’s predecessor Table Tennis and its variant Tennis on Magnavox Odyssey are just Bad. This system is so non-functional that I hesitate to call it a video game. Pong may have been influenced by this, but I feel like Nolan Bushnell must have looked at the Odyssey and said “what if it was good?”

And Pong is certainly functional, but I struggle to call it good. The gameplay is simple and easy to grasp, but frankly it was one of the least interesting games that we played during our DICE session. Part of the problem was that I never found a good control option. Keyboards, joysticks, Atari paddles, and even real hardware just felt jittery and inaccurate. I rank Pong Below Average. It might rank Average if it controlled better.

Of the other DICE-emulated games we played, Indy 4 was far and away the best, and the earliest game I deem Good. Driving felt good even on a keyboard, and was even better on a steering wheel played on real arcade hardware at ACAM.

Space Race and Gotcha were fun multiplayer games, as was Rebound, especially once we played it with Atari paddles. Rebound just controlled better than Pong did, even though we used the same controls and the same emulator, and the gravity-bound 2D gameplay was just more fun than Pong. Clean Sweep also played very well with the paddles. All of these games rank Above Average.

Crash ‘n Score and Jet Fighter were mechanically fine but lacked a compelling draw. Breakout suffered from finicky controls and much too high a difficulty. I rank them all Average.

Anti-Aircraft was just boring. I rank it Below Average, alongside Pong.

Night Driver and Datsun 280ZZZap

Atari’s Night Driver is a technical accomplishment, but I didn’t find it much fun. The very similar Datsun 280ZZZap beats in in graphical bells & whistles, but is too easy and simplistic. Night Driver is Average, Datsun 280ZZZap is Below Average. The unplayed game that inspired both, Nürburgring 1, remains a tantalizing mystery.

More MAME’d arcade games of 1975-1978

Space Invaders was the best, a bona fide classic, and an easy Good ranking. Midway’s Gun Fight was the next best, a fast and fun shootout, which I rank Above Average.

Blockade is the original Snake (or TRON if you prefer), but not the best. Its biggest problem is having a playfield too big for two players, and combined with a fairly low game speed, it takes a long time before you have to react. Super Breakout, on the other hand, was much too fast, as was the OG Breakout. Better controls and more gameplay options improved it some, but not enough. Both Blockade and Super Breakout were Average at best.

Starship 1 was just an odd game, with impressive sprite scaling and parallax starfield, but no real gameplay strategy or challenge. Below Average.

The VCS launches

The Atari VCS launched with nine titles. I played five of them, plus three 1978 titles.

I enjoyed Outlaw and Surround the most, and rank them both Good. Both expanded on earlier arcade games, and improved on them with options that felt like meaningful variety rather than Atari’s usual filler.

Indy 500, evaluated based on its best game modes, is Above Average. The racing modes, sadly, aren’t good at all, though that may be because we lacked the appropriate controllers. Its Crash ‘N Score mode is better than the arcade game that inspired it, and Tag is fun too.

Combat feels like a tech demo for the system, using pretty much every hardware feature in the exact way it was meant to be used. Tank-Pong was the best game type, but I’d rather play any of the Above Average DICE games than replay this, and there’s no singleplayer mode, so I rate it Average.

Air-Sea Battle is like an expanded Anti-Aircraft, and just as boring. Slot Racers was a game I really wanted to like more, but it’s just too weird for its own good. In our play session, we never felt like we had a good grip on how to use the strange missile controls. Basketball, though I appreciate its competent AI, has unreliable stealing and blocking, which are its only meaningful player interactions. These games are Below Average.

Star Ship is Bad, and by far the worst of the launch VCS titles that I played. There are some ambitious and/or outlandish ideas, like attempting pseudo-3D sprite scaling on the system, and having a second player control things that would normally be computer-controlled, but nothing is executed well here.

Adventure Time

Adventure by William Crowther is clearly an unfinished game. Therefore, I’ll decline to rank it.

Don Woods’ version of Adventure, on the other hand, is surprisingly complete, and doesn’t at all feel as one would expect of the first game of its kind. This is a bona fide adventure game, with all the required elements, and few vestigial features, even if none of the puzzles are especially clever (barring killing the dragon, a puzzle so stupid it wraps around the zero boundary and becomes clever). But it’s also full of annoyances that lessened my enjoyment enough that I can’t rate it any higher than Average.

Scott Adams’ Adventureland is a short but enjoyable romp through an extremely condensed Adventure. What it lacks in epic size, it more than makes up for in streamlined accessibility and better puzzles. In spite of some irritating aspects, I rank it Above Average.

The follow-up Pirate Adventure is more polished and fairer than Adventureland, but without having a single interesting puzzle, I can’t rank it as high. Average.

DNDlikes

Pedit5 has a hilariously brutal difficulty curve, and I had fun with it once I had a reasonably strong character, but getting there involved hours of sending dozens of hapless characters to their deaths, which wasn’t fun at all. Thankfully, beating the game doesn’t take long at all, and each level you gain significantly enhances your survival rate, but you’re never truly safe. Average.

Dnd v5.4 is much more merciful, and was fun for a while. But the endgame was days of mindless grinding in preparation for a dragon fight that I really, really did not want to lose, and with no way to estimate its strength (all the game ever told me was that I had no chance), I simply grinded for HP and levels until I couldn’t stand it any longer. The days of tedium far outweighed the days of having fun, so I rank it Below Average.

Daniel Lawrence’s DND was overall quite enjoyable, being deeper and more complex than dnd or pedit5, and with maps full of interactive stuff, plenty of special encounters and monster fights, and a lengthy list of spells, most of them pretty creative. I do wish the maps weren’t quite as big, and that the teleporters weren’t so frequent, but it’s a cut above its predecessors and I rank it Above Average.

Lawrence’s Telengard, a DND remake initially for the Commodore PET, really suffers from a painfully slow speed. Combined with an ill-advised timer which skips your “move” if you wait too long (don't get distracted while waiting for the game to accept input, and you can forget about using turbo), and a seemingly endless dungeon size, it became intolerable. This game is Bad, and it’s a shame because I can easily see myself ranking it Above Average if it performed as well as DND did.

That’s it for the whales of 1976-1978 and their ancestors. Did people enjoy it, or find it a positive addition to the blog? If so, moving forward, would it be better to have periodic GAB digests like this, or to rate games in the initial posts? Would anyone want to see these ratings in table or Google Docs format?

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