Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Adventures with the Old, Obscure and Odd

I was fortunate to have access to computer games early on in my childhood.  Unlike most kids my age, I didn't actually own a Nintendo, but instead had an Apple IIc.  By far my favorite games on that machine were Sierra "Quest" titles.  However, those weren't the only adventure games that stuck with me all these years.  In fact there are a few oddities that I can still remember playing in detail, not because they were fun, but rather because they were truly bizarre one-of-a-kind experiences.

T. rex was probably the first adventure game I ever owned.  Like many children, I had a deep interest in all things dinosaur related.  Advertised as a simulation/education game, it was more like a crude prehistoric version of Dark Souls.  The gameplay mechanics were unforgiving to say the least. despite being labeled an adventure game, survival seemed to be the only real goal. A bleak atmosphere mixed with feelings of foreboding also permeated the entire experience. Needless to say, my poor Tyrannosaurus became a premature fossil so often that the tagline "Prepare to Die" really should have been printed on the box. For me though, the most outstanding memory I have of this game would defiantly be the time I finally managed to bring down a Triceratops only to perish immediately after from overeating (as if worrying about things like dehydration, body temperature and fatigue weren't bad enough, the Tyrant Lizard King can also eat himself to death).  No wonder dinosaurs went extinct...

Next  up is Dondra: A New Beginning.  Basically it's a text adventure game with some pasted still images mixed with crude animation.  This one really threw me for a loop though with its 3-D sticker box art.  At the time, I had just seen a censored version of the cartoon film "Heavy Metal," obviously there is a parallel with regards to amazonian looking women riding on giant bird-creatures.  I couldn't understand what the relationship was between this game and that movie though.  Many years later, after the invention of the internet, I did a bit of research and found out that Dondra also goes by the name Questmaster.  Apparently it had nothing to do with any other licensed property.  Regardless, the setting was a bewildering collection of random places and characters which exuded a fantasy vibe, yet featured jarring signs of modernity such as firearms and industrial machinery.  Granted, weird adventure games were hardly anything new at the time.  I had already played Manhole for the Mac and that featured a fully voice acted jive talking dragon!  The interface was also strange.  At first glance it worked like most text parser adventure games, but had several areas in which the player would die if they lingered for very long.  To compensate for this it was possible to turn off all the images (making it a truly text only adventure) as well as the ability to stack input commands such that multiple things could be carried out in rapid succession.  Supposedly, two sequels were planned that would allow you to import your character from previous entries but for whatever reason Dondra never got past its first outing.  Maybe because no one could figure out what the game was supposed to be about...?

Zork has actually been around for quite a while.  Originally a text only adventure game series, it eventually became a point and click Myst-style game with the advent of CD-ROM technology.  This was a major departure since in its new form Return to Zork featured live action prerecorded video and audio segments along with detailed still images. Performances, generally speaking, were bad despite a cast consisting of real actors. Gameplay was mostly item gathering mixed with brief character interaction. There were a couple of mazes to navigate through as well. One unique feature was the ability to take photos of people or places and then show the pictures to other characters, who would comment on them. It was also possible to kill or scare off just about anyone in the game. Although doing so usually resulted in an un-winnable situation. Luckily this problem was offset somewhat by multi-solution puzzle design. Much like Dondra or Manhole the setting is really random and without a hint guide most players will spend the game fumbling around trying to figure out what to do and where to go. At one point in the game you are required to dump everything you are carrying in order to progress (rather cathartic for an adventure game). The story is incomprehensible and culminates in a sort of face off against the big bad (Morphius) which is settled by a match of "survivor" (it's a little like chess except each side only has one piece). Since the game didn't bother to explain much to me, I can't explain much of the narrative to you, but to this day I do remember little details like the Bonding Plant (needed to gain access to a comedy club) and a glows-when-wet fuel source called Illumite. Other than those factoids though nothing made more sense at the end of the game than it did in the beginning.

Now here's a game that's talking sense!

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