Friday, May 31, 2013

Parker Brothers and the wall of displays

Between my recent sporadic postings here on this blog, at some point in the last week or so the cosmic odometer ticked over and this unlikely blog reached the great grand milestone of some TEN THOUSAND VIEWS, all said. Some of them were even from actual real people. If I had to pick one of my curious projects to be exposed to ten thousand people I don't know if this would have been at the top of my list (well, nor this, and not really this either.) But at least I've achieved a relatively wide audience for something or other.

In commemoration, I provide for you today not one but three ad scans, though the three are eerily similar...

We've seen that Parker Brothers (which, incidentally, I just learned was actually named after two brothers in the Parker family (duh), George S. Parker and Frederick Huntington Parker) had one kind of creative print ad layout. Well, hold your horses, because they had at least three (don't forget Montezuma's Revenge!), and here's the new one -- three times:
Atari.  Intellivision.  ColecoVision.  T.I.  Commodore.  Now you can play POPEYE, one of the most fun and challenging arcade games yet, on any one of them.  Run through three screens of non-stop action, where you try to capture Olive Oyl's heart, while avoiding untold dangers, including Brutus and the Sea Hag.  Run down to your local store for Popeye today.  And while you're there, check out TUTANKHAM, FROGGER, Q*bert and SUPER COBRA, also from Parker Brothers' Arcade Action Series.
"Their own system". I saw what you did there. So here's Popeye from 1984. A head-scratcher today, but at the time don't forget it was just four years behind the blockbuster, well, flop on the silver screen. But everyone knew the character! The game was a hit for Nintendo in the arcade in '82, after licensing the characters from the King Features Syndicate, and then conversions for the bafflingly diverse array of home hardware offerings (a branching tree soon to be pruned) were published by Parker Brothers, who also sold a board game adaptation (!) of the video game.
The thing I like about this ad isn't just the arbitrary lumping and splitting of families of hardware (Atari 400/800 are together here but the 600XL is its own thing. And what's the system in the front bottom, in front of the player's head?  It looks unique, albeit totally blurry.  More to the point, which one of these is he actually playing?)  And now, for a change...

 FROGGER is one of the all-time great award-winning home video games.  And now Parker Brothers has programmed it into all the most popular video and computer formats so you can keep things hopping in your own home.
Catch Frogger along with POPEYE, Q bert, TUTANKHAM, and SUPER COBRA where you buy your video and computer games.  You'll find it absolutely ribbitting.
"At your pad."  I saw what you did there.  So, Frogger.  No surprises there. Frogger is a bit earlier here, 1983; at this point, just how long would the list be of "all-time great award-winning home video games"? (Actually, the top dozen is pretty obvious.) "Keep things hopping" -- really? It's curious how at this point they're stressing distinctions between machines with the repeated phrase "video and computer". The list of systems supported has a slightly different texture also -- the VIC-20 is still here but drops off by the time Popeye rolls around. Parker Brothers, you're not programming it into the formats, you're just licensing the rights to do so to other developers and then publishing the results!  (Hell, most home computer versions -- Apple 2, C64, Mac, PC, Atari 800 -- were programmed by soon-to-be adventure game king Sierra. Conspicuously for an ad in which the platform ubiquity is the main selling point, several of those machines aren't name-checked here.  Didn't want to break the ad layout by making a grid of 16 displays?)  Was Q*bert's asterisk not yet standard or was it just omitted in a typesetting error? "Absolutely ribbitting" all right, I'm out of here

... no wait, gotta duck in to mention that Frogger got its own Parker Bros. board game adaptation also.  Well, y'know, Conway's game of life was first played with dinner plates on a tiled dining room floor, but some games benefit so much more by machine automation of tedious board-setting.

 If you've been wanting to play Q*bert, but haven't been able to find it available for your home system, your time has come.  Because now you can keep things hopping with any of these popular home video and computer formats.
Get going to your nearest video store and get Q*bert today.  And while you're there, check out Parker Brothers' POPEYE, FROGGER, TUTANKHAM, and SUPER COBRA.  All the great Arcade Action games, now in all the great home formats.
First off, thanks to Benj Edwards' fabulous Vintage Computing site for this final member of my trifecta.  "Keep things hopping" -- I saw... waitasec, your thematic coherence loses big points for reusing the same phrase for both Frogger and Q*bert!  Frogs hop and Q*berts hop, but both in different ways.  By using the same phrase for both, it loses specific applicability to either!  Go back in time 30 years and dock this copywriter's salary!  Don't forget to adjust for inflation and cost of living!  Looks like the 1983 gang of viable platforms remains the same as above.  You see the phrase "Arcade / Action" on all these boxes (look closely) but this ad is the only one to make a thing out of their being a line of games, by awkwardly printing the phrase with Leading Initials.

And yes, Q*bert had its own board game also, and I own it.  Just like the video game, only slower and more labour-intensive -- but perhaps in the long run, thriftier on a quarter-by-quarter basis.

Ultimately, it seems as though the three fundamentally same-ish ads actually have the game player at least wearing three different garments.  Was it just too difficult to cut around his backlit mop top without a Photoshop magic wand tool?  (A: Quite probably.)


Were you inspired to live the dream depicted in these ads, but could never afford the hardware or square footage needed to install a grid of nine displays? Fear no longer -- thanks to the UberNES screensaver, you can enjoy your own customized 3x3 game-grid of your choice of NES games! (Depicted are... well, let's see -- some football game, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong 3, Willow, some MegaMan game, Wild Gunman, Batman, RoboCop, and Blaster Master.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"G.I. Joe", NES, 1991.

OK, so let's get this blog back underway. I got sidetracked investigating monetizing these blogs with (relevant!) ads and referrals to nerdy products I talk up here (candidly and objectively.) My research yielded two things: first, that though Blogger talks about integration with Amazon vending, this program was actually hamstrung and, essentially, you can't get there form here; and second, that given the quantities of traffic I enjoy on my two most active blog projects, dedicated activity on my part might someday net me up to $10/month in revenues. I suppose this also in a roundabout way also explains why my celebrity blogging career never took off. In any case, I digress.

Children of the '80s, I salute you. This appears to be the final game published by Taxan, though the developers at KID kept chugging along for quite some time over widely disparate territory (bishoujo games, a truck driving simulator, and of course Pepsiman). All quite Japanese in texture, barring this extraordinary exception concerning Real American Heroes.


So is that blue-hooded hell raiser, Cobra Commander(r).

But you can help squash this terrorist and his boys, with the new G.I. Joe Video Game for the Nintendo. Your mission: lead Snake Eyes(tm), Blizzard(tm), Duke(tm), Captain Grid-Iron(tm) and Rock & Roll(tm) in do-or-die combat against Cobra Commander and the COBRA(tm) forces.

Choose your G.I. Joe character, your weapons and start blasting your way through Antarctica, the Sahara, the jungle, and worst of all, the sewers of New York. Get to level six, get Cobra Commander, and it's mission accomplished. Of course, your first mission is to get the new G.I. Joe Video game.

(Apologies for the scan misalignment; there were colour separation issues with my printed source that I tried to fix and... it's complicated.)

I only played one GI Joe video game during my childhood and strangely, it was not this one but rather Epyx's earlier title (heh, of the same name) for the Apple 2 and Commodore 64, which I played it on (over at, let me recall, Brian Willis' house.) My parents wouldn't permit me to play with "war toys" and G.I. Joe, despite their explicit anti-terrorist slant (showing strange prescience from series scribe Larry Hama), fit that bill. This had me stiffly playing with 4-articulation-point Star Wars figurines while my friends had their Joes somersaulting tucked up using all eight points of articulation. Of course I became familiar with everyone else's collection in the schoolyard, always marveling at the figures' foot and back sockets for securing to vehicle footholds and backpack accessories. One year I was bequeathed a Joe at my birthday party and I didn't know if I'd even be able to accept the gift. But, of course, none of this has any bearing on this ad.

I have to say, not only is this Cobra Commander costume excellent, but I truly appreciate how he's posed in front of an assortment of house plants. As we've established, in the '80s, a good costume is really all a successful video game modeling career predicated on. Is Cobra Commander(r) really blue-blooded, meaning of aristocratic descent? I'm sure that the Baroness is, given her title, and I understand that Destro is as well. Is this a dig at the old feudal system, Joes instead representing a present and future of classless meritocracy? (And what bearing does this have on Cobra's nameless, literally faceless legions of interchangeable mooks and actual robots? Do the Joes represent a utopia of individualism whose uniformless everyman's army accommodates the whole spectrum of types from Gung Ho to Rock &Roll?) Or am I reading too much into things?

What else can I say here. The game environments run the whole gamut of standards: cold, hot (what, no Egyptian level?), jungle, and ("worst of all", heh) sewer. The only things missing are castle, graveyard and H.R. Giger. So, which Joes are on tap? (Their variety would be great for, I don't know, a collectible card game. G.I. Joe: The Gathering. Any video game invariably disappoints with the absence of your favorite personality.) Snake Eyes, naturally, no clarification or qualification needed. Blizzard, the cold-weather specialist -- presumably leading you through Antarctica (which has, I believe, treaties preventing your "blasting your way through".) Duke, representing management (though Hawk or Flint would have done equally well.) Rock & Roll, machine gunner (I just learned that his name is military jargon for firing on full-automatic, good for providing suppressive cover fire and wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars.) And Captain Grid-Iron, the soldier with the loose football theme (eventually made fully redundant by William "The Fridge" Perry's full football theme, including his spiked-football-on-a-chain hand weapon) and a John Wayne accent. Thanks to Joepedia for providing the details. Though I became fully schoolyard-coversant in all these intricacies of forbidden lore, it's not an element of nostalgia I have retained through the years, crowded out by the Babel Fish puzzle and how to get a date with Violet in LORD.

OK, this post tells you more about me than about the game; the ad copy admittedly doesn't give me a great deal to work with. Still, it's a cool photo.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Montezuma's Revenge", 1984.

My apologies, folks. Life gets busy and attention gets diverted away from the paper mines of 1984. But always upon my return, there's practically more of these awaiting my exposition than there were when I left! So, more game ads -- for a change, from a comic book, as this blog always intended!
"I had to think quick -- remember where I seen that key or I'd be hotfootin' it over a fire pit. That's when the headbone come flyin' at me.
This wasn't gonna be no day at the beach."

Montezuma's Revenge

If you've got a mind like Einstein and reflexes to match, then Montezuma's Revenge(tm) is the game for you. It's a revolutionary game that challenges you to think smart and react fast. Join Panama Joe(tm)'s search for buried treasure. Figure a way to get him over the fire pits. Behind the locked doors. Through a hundred* rooms crawlin' with critters. Get Montezuma's Revenge and get ready for action and adventure like you've never had before! Available in disc for Apple II(r), Atari(r) Computers, Commodore 64(tm), and IBM(r) in cartridge for Atari 2600(tm), Atari 5200(tm), and ColecoVision(tm).

*24 rooms in Atari 2600.

So the ad is a bit goofy, but the art is attention-grabbing (Michael Caine with a goofy moustache, tongue caught in a stunned gape, while the box cover art suggests a more lithe and virile anthropolo-looter, but always sharing the skull motif) and the text, well, inoffensive. (Is that his arm? What is the joystick resting on? What console system's distinctive variety of joystick is it, anyhow? And why is Michael Caine playing it in a cave with flying skulls competing for his attention?) This seems to be an early platformer somewhere between Pitfall and Super Mario, generally well-regarded and even spawning a couple of sequels far enough down the line to have lost all benefit from association with the earlier game. (New, for your Windows machine: the hit follow-up to the ColecoVision smash everyone's still talking about!)

"A mind like Einstein and reflexes to match"? Just what were Einstein's reflexes like? This apparently refers to puzzle-like aspects to the gameplay, presumably the collection and use of keys to unlock different chambers of a vast underground pyramid complex.*

* Less vast on Atari 2600.

Revolutionary? No, Latin America is the right general setting, but you've still got the particulars mixed up.

Is challenging players to react fast really so novel in 1984? "Know what the problem is here in this arcade? Not enough twitch." Suuure.I like how the "hero" Panama Joe is apparently named after his style of hat, though like Alabama Smith of Paganitzu and Nevada Smith of Pharaoh's Tomb apparently a derivation of Indiana Jones -- himself apparently derived from the ur-Nevada Smith, a 1966 Steve McQueen western.

As a bonus, in this ad's small print you get to see just what kind of trademark and copyright protection all the consoles of the time applied to their brands. Funny how they clearly delineate which systems the game is sold for in disc form, and which ones have cartridges. Largely I think they could figure that out for themselves, if it mattered.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

And now for something completely different: a garage sale find!

In the interests of striking while the iron is hot, now that we've left that kathartic LucasArts garment-ripping behind us (and phew! don't we feel better for it now!), here are a couple of neat curios from a garage sale this weekend. First off, we have a dedicated Tetris TV game with two joysticks! If you can have one game in dedicated form, Tetris is a good one, with endless replay value. (Contrast: my Intellivision TV game, which gathers together a dozen titles for which nostalgia is the only motivation to investigate. This one we may actually plug in and play sometime.) Because there are as many versions of Tetris as there are drops of water in the ocean, it's interesting to speculate which version lies behind these joysticks. The ones first to mind are of course the big splash early releases: Spectrum Holobyte's MS-DOS conversion, the version included in the Windows Entertainment Pack, the "killer app" Game Boy port which made the plucky but gutless handheld the longest-in-production console ever (though Pokémon probably helped a bit), the licensed NES one and of course the superior but forbidden Tengen NES port of what you might have seen in the arcade.

(Trivia: while trying to conduct some research into the provenance of the "traditional" Russian melodies present in the game, I was having a hard time determining the source of two songs in Tengen's version, Bradinsky and Logginsky. Then I realised that the game was programmed by Ed Logg (of Asteroids fame) with music by Brad Fuller, who it turns out had come up with two new Old Country tunes (an urge I can sympathise with) and named them in Soviet homage-ski, comrade. They are still good tunes, though better suited to computer rendition than live performance, but well worth dancing the hopak to, as cuckoo-clock Cossacks demonstrate between levels.)

These games (still an enigma, until I dig up some batteries to bring them to life) probably aren't any of these versions, emblazoned as they are with Roger Dean's (of Yes album art and Psygnosis cover art) logo used by Electronic Arts licensed adaptations over the past decade, themselves often different despite flying the same flag, so to speak. We'll find out when I get around to plugging it in, which I understand to many people might be a lower bar to analysing something than blogging about it. (Thanks to my years of archiving and scholarship, however, I possess the uncanny ability to hold forth at great length about games that I haven't even played. I can also intelligently discuss movies I have only experienced in review form. Firsthand experience? Maybe it's overrated.)

The second item is more compelling, and was nearly overlooked completely -- I wouldn't have caught it, but my somewhat less-blindered partner found it among a box of wallpaper (where I would never have been looking in the first place). Now put down your Angry Birds coffee mug and think back to the summer of 1980 and the first great video game franchising success. It's Pac-Man! And now you can decorate an entire wall of your son's rumpus room after his theme! The maze is represented intelligently, depicting a largely possible game (based on pellets eaten thus far, though admittedly how the upper left got the way it is remains a bit of a mystery -- probably just cleaned up for less conflict with the foreground scene), the fruit bonuses are legit, the ghosts are presented in both hunter and prey mode (*love* the way Pac-Man is stowing Inky under his arm -- sorry, too busy chowing down on Pinkie, will attend to you in a moment... I'm convinced that this Carnival role-reversal really is the soul of Pac-Man's appeal), and the copyright notice all checks out. The only head-scratcher is softie Pac-Man on the bottom of the maze. Power Pellet Pac has eyebrows, bare feet, and well-defined gloved fingers, while Softie wears red booties, his gloves have devolved to little clouds, his eyebrows have turned into bangs blowing in the breeze, and overall his face looks caved in, as though some ghost, instead of merely sucking our Pac-Man's soul and draining a few levels with his wraith-like touch, instead punched him in the kisser. A Homesar to Pac-Man's Homestar Runner. A mystery.

The pattern tiles, with the blue ghost's bottom overlapping with the bottom right of the maze and the apple bonus breaking through the top right of the maze, yielding a pleasant ABAB repetition. As to the question of who would use this wallpaper, and to paper what room exactly, we are left somewhat in suspense. The Internet knows very little about this wallpaper -- the one other person who has found a roll optimistically believes it to be worth $60. (It's hard to price unique items, but I appreciate that you don't want to lowball yourself, especially in regards to collectibles.) Now that there are two known specimens, perhaps its value will drop to $30. Our purchase price was $2 negotiated down to $1, a fair price for a fun, kooky curio. (The optimist reminds me of the small-town Saskatchewan bookseller from whom I purchased a half-dozen $1.50 gamebooks. On his shelves I also found an unpriced copy of an Endless Quest gamebook featuring Tarzan, whose fandom I am given to understand have increased the demand on this particular volume. I was expecting the book to be priced similarly to the other ones I picked up, but the bookseller insisted on visiting Amazon to get a baseline impression of what to charge for it. It told him $80 (seems to have dropped somewhat in the meantime), a price he was unable to recount to me without some incredulity, and I wished him luck finding that elusive, delusional (a combination demanding its own portmanteau) Amazon buyer. You see the same phenomenon taking effect on second-hand late-run Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf gamebooks, with what should be $2 paperbacks being priced in the hundreds of dollars range due to smaller print runs and a culture of completionist collectors. But I digress.)

I have a couple of other new acquisitions to parade before you, but maybe I should toss up some quick comic book video game ads interspersed between them so I can claim to be at least 50% on-topic.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Maniac Mansion", NES, 1990.

Well, folks, here it is, the final stop on my Lucasarts memorial tour. I thought "it's too bad I don't have any ads on file for Maniac Mansion" but then I remembered The Stack... So it's not exactly an ad, but at the same time -- everything in this magazine is an ad, if not for games on the NES, than for the NES itself and the NES "lifestyle". Early issues of Nintendo Power had this really awesome trend of arranging for little dioramas depicting game scenes for use as magazine covers. It was that brief moment in time when the best way to depict objects on a computer screen was in 2D and the best way to compellingly present the subjects of that 2D artwork was analogue sculpture in 3D. These covers were one of Nintendo Power's recurring strong points (well, that and the Howard & Nester comics, who also engaged Maniac Mansion in their own way.) Here's a (partial -- thought I scanned both halves, but guess not!) map of the Edison estate. One of my recurring interests in video games is games that revisit territory -- games built on the maps of earlier games, like the System Shock 1 call-out near the end of System Shock 2, or eg. Pyramid 2000 being built on Adventure's map. Isn't there a Wolfenstein 3-D map adapted from a Pac-Man level? (It even happened to A Story As You Like It!) Maniac Mansion's sequel, Day of the Tentacle, of course also takes place in the Edison mansion, but the basic layout there is considerably changed. (Granted, continuity takes a backseat to story and gameplay, and isn't a compelling virtue unto itself, but it definitely sends me a shivering metatextual frisson. Wait, come back!) I wouldn't go so far as to say that these profiles contained everything you needed to know in order to win a game (and thus basically spoil it), but rather contained much that would enhance your enjoyment of the game, drawing attention to important design elements and minimising player time spent banging their head against a wall elsewhere. A couple of important Maniac Mansion elements: multiple endings attainable through variable party composition, plus of course red herring objects.

Did You Know: computer Maniac Mansion was considered such a phenomenon that a kawaii Famicom re-implementation was made that doesn't use SCUMM? It retains most of the elements that Nintendo of America requested be removed as in the notorious expurgation article. Only later for the US NES release did we get a version built on the bones of the earlier ones. We didn't end up seeing many similar graphical adventure games on consoles with the exception of Nightshade and the Scooby-Doo title I mentioned there, and arguably Cosmic Spacehead... because A Joystick Is Not A Mouse, though Icom still had success porting their MacVentures to the NES and ignoring that directive. Apparently most of the time allotted for the development of this game was actually spent developing the SCUMM scripting language (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, don't you know?) which meant this project ran into overtime -- but they sure ended up getting a lot of mileage out of the framework, first at Lucasarts and also at Humongous!

If you haven't played Maniac Mansion, the authoritative way to do so is through the AGS fan remake Maniac Mansion Deluxe by "Lucasfans", if you can find it. MM was one of my very first pieces of sneakernet warez back in the day, but it wasn't until MMD that I was able to finish it (... because a keyboard is also not a mouse, and slows you down for timed puzzles involving eg. draining flashlight batteries.) And, of course, you should all have SCUMMVM installed on your devices to facilitate investigation and revisitation of this game, its successors and brethren. Did you ever see the Maniac Mansion TV show? At the time it felt very strange to watch, knowing that most viewers would have no idea it was a video game first, and that likely more money was spent on an episode-by-episode basis than was spent on making the entire game it was based on.

If you have any interest in the unusual aesthetics of early versions of MM for older machines (C64, Apple 2), it's worth looking up its Lucasarts predecessors, the Habitat MMORPG and the Labyrinth adventure game (with creative input from Douglas Adams! "Adumbrate the elephant" indeed!)

And that's really just about everything I have to say about Maniac Mansion. Hats off, Lucasarts, you made some good adventure games, and eventually you also made the Dig and Full Throttle as well.
See more on Know Your Meme

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Curse of Monkey Island", Windows, 1997.

This is just about it, only one more item in my "classic LucasArts" folder. I have good memories of this one, playing it in just about a single session, totally derailing a 1999 trip to Helsinki. Phil and I just ground through this sitting on Jaako "Tarot" Raami's living room floor while ostensibly in Finland to attend the Assembly demoparty. I know, its detractors will claim that with the departure of the original developers, the magic was gone, the story was diluted, the puzzles were obscure. Embarrassing as it is to admit in retrospect, I had similar issues with every instalment of the MI series (never got a chance to play the 4th in 3D), often having to take weeks off run up against the wall on this puzzle or that, waiting for hints to be shared on BBSes, and at that moment this game never felt as though anything was lacking.
Introducing the only pirate adventure that asks the question: What's sharper, your sword or your wit?

Presenting the long-awaited third installment in LucasArts' classic adventure series, Monkey Island. With features like 30-plus hours of gameplay, 8,000 lines of hilarious dialogue, oodles of challenging puzzles, high-resolution graphics, film-quality animation and a few surprise celebrity voices. Not to mention vegetarian cannibals and a guy named Snugglecakes. So get ready to embark on a rollicking, swashbuckling graphic adventure where the seagulls have better aim than the pirates, and the sharpest weapon is your wit.

Just how witty is a skeleton pirate in a goofy flotation device? I don't know if "wit" is really the word they were looking for.

Long-awaited: 6 years between MI 2 and this one. (Then only 3 between this and the "who cares?" MI 4. Maybe they would have been better off turning it into a FPS, RTS or Myst clone. Then, well, 9 years for the Tales of Monkey Island which actually look a lot like MI4.)

Don't advertise hours of gameplay in an adventure game, or else you end up with this. How many lines of dialogue? Would you ever see a novel or screenplay touted this way? Put it this way: unless your game is Planescape: Torment, nobody cares how many unfunny insults a bizarrely-inserted Gary Coleman throws at you. Graphics and animation were non-starters in '97, either you had them or the conversation wouldn't even have started. Retro big pixels wasn't a "thing" yet. "[A] guy named Snugglecakes" also isn't selling me yet. Like with a movie trailer, you have to ask yourself: and this is really the best they have to show? Then there's a bird poop joke, aaaaand... we're done. No, wait, the LucasArts guy in the bottom right corner is a pirate stickman, with the cursed ring hanging off of the logo! Also, I just noticed: the skeleton pirate isn't floating in the water in his duckie, he's actually reclining on the beach sand. Lazy, lazy skeleton!

Cynics might say that the same loving care went into the ad as went into the game. But as I say, the game held up at the time, and this ad is good enough provided you don't subject it to scrutiny. And really, who pores over these ads, anyway?

The only remaining important question would be: who's this "köelsch" whose autograph turns up between lines 3 and 4 of the left-page slogan? An uncredited concept artist?

And for reading to the end, here's a bonus reward! Because it has some relevance to the matter at hand, I will drop this link here -- for those who enjoyed Monkey Island's insult swordfighting but couldn't abide sitting through the rest of all that adventure game filler between combats.

"Outlaws", Windows, 1997.

All right, we've seen Classic-era Lucasarts games, early-stage ones, and now for a couple of late-stage ones. Like Loom or, say, Afterlife, this is an anomalous title, without precedent or follow-up (well, barring a "handful of missions" pack) in their catalogue. It raises the question of why no one had made a Sergio Leone-style Western game before this, and the answer probably was: the technology wasn't there yet, and getting the right cinematic-minded crew together to provide the necessary production values probably would have been prohibitively expensive any earlier. (Some people may argue that the technology still wasn't there yet, or if it was, they were eschewing it by re-using the Dark Forces engine from two years prior -- which in the mid-'90s was positively a geologic era.)


The gameplay's packed with strategy, puzzles, and plenty of gun fighting action.
First person shooter action lets you set your sights and pull the trigger.
After you gun down the last outlaw you'll ride off triumphantly into the sunset.

Get ready for the good, the bad, and the even worse. As Marshall James Anderson, you'll face a horde of ornery, gun-slinging outlaws. You'll shoot your way through a twisted plot of greed and revenge. You'll arm yourself with firearms, as well as your wits. You'll fight alone, or engage in multi-player gameplay over modem, LAN or Internet. So go ahead, and make your day.

TRANSLATION: THIS AIN'T NO LUCASARTS ADVENTURE GAME, WE CAN DO THE FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER GENRE SAME AS THE NEXT UNINSPIRED COMPANY. But hang on, then they talk about puzzles and strategy. Is this more of the "find the red key to open the red door" business? And that sunset bit? Come on, screenshots, don't spoil the ending! (Anyhow, for the evolved, post-modern Western, a happy ending is something that we shouldn't expect to be given!)

Is that phrase "arm yourself with firearms" as awkward for you as it is for me? You'll equip yourself with fighting equipment. You'll clothe yourself in battle clothes. You'll feed yourself with tasty food. It just falls a shade too far on the side of the tautological and, hence, extraneous. "As well as your wits"? Now they're poaching from their concurrent Curse of Monkey Island advertising campaign, our next stop!

And here's a real sign of the times: "engage in multi-player gameplay over modem, LAN or Internet". The modem and LAN technologies still exist, but are games still developed with supporting them in mind? Certainly it's no longer a selling point. Then we end with a Dirty Harry riff: "So go ahead, and make your day." Yes, Dirty Harry is also a movie in which Clint Eastwood, who played The Man With No Name in several spaghetti westerns, also acted. But invoking it here is somewhat non sequitur. May as well end on a quote from the Bridges of Madison County, also starring Eastwood, also not a Western. Of course, what those other works do share is the primacy of the gun. But you know what, copywriter, you don't need to invoke that in an ad whose central image is a flying bullet. It's already implied.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis", 1992.

You already saw the ad for the comic based on the game(s). Now, as we round the bend in this Lucasarts eulogy series, you can get a taste of it. (I would say that this series has been good for me and popular among the readership, as I'm about to tick over my next thousand-readers milestone, but in all truth the seeming increased per-post frequency with which I make those announcements doesn't mean all that much if I only cough up a new post about as often as the long tail delivers another kiloview. But surely this meta-commentary isn't of any interest to any of you.)
Wowie zowie! The front cover!
Dark Horse trading cards inside
Where have I seen that "FATE OF ATLANTIS" font before? Surely another Lucasfilm game.

And here, a closing scene from issue 1, the only issue I accidentally came into possession of. Almost movie-storyboard-ish!

I love the way comics dialogue will suddenly become BOTH BOLD AND ITALICIZED to distinguish it from its standard CAPS LOCK YELLING for emphasis.

Apparently Dark Horse took it further with the license to issue comics based on Indy, also printing a 4-part series of Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix, the planned adventure-game sequel to Fate of Atlantis, dealing with a resurrection of Hitler in South America... deep-sixed after learning about the prohibition on portrayals of Nazi imagery in German games, a critical slice of the adventure game market.
And since "am I really going to revisit this subject a third time later on? of course not" here's the ad for the game, graciously borrowed from World 1-1.


Plato knew about Atlantis.
In a lost dialogue he wrote about the famed city and orichalcum, the mysterious element that powered the Atlanteans['] amazing machinery.

The Nazis know about Atlantis.
They tracked down the lost dialogue, and realized orichalcum would yield them the ultimate weapon of the age.

Sophia knows about Atlantis.
She unearthed a mysterious necklace and beads of orichalcum during an Icelandic archeological dig with Indy. Their magical properties made her a psychic.

Everyone knows but Indy
And he's got to learn fast. The Nazis are one step ahead of him -- from Iceland to North Africa from the Azores to... Atlantis.

Our biggest, most complex adventure ever.
Huge. More than 200 rooms furnished with vivid VGA art. Roto-scoped animation, a new icon interface. Exciting LucasArts electronic storytelling technology. Dramatic theatrical lighting.

Three ways to play and replay.
Three roads lead to Atlantis. "Puzzle path" features tough but logical riddles. "Action path" demands two-fisted reflexes. "Team path" calls on your intuitive sense and interpersonal skills.

Cinematic soundtrack.
iMUSE™, our brand new interactive sound system, supports all major sound cards with situation-based sound effects and music.

and the
Iceland. The start of a new chapter in the history of Atlantis.

Indy and Sophia cross many paths on the way to rediscovering the lost continent.

The ancient necklace hides many mysteries from the past.

The illustration is compelling. Anything that starts with looking up at the ocean surface from below and is followed by lava as your eye trails down is an effective attention-grabber. Now, I understand why the camels are where they are but that's the point at which the coherence of the montage breaks a little for me -- there are, after all, no aqua-camels at the bottom of the sea. The left-hand column of plot points are all hooks. Introducing Sophia here is tough, but they cover all the important elements without feeling crowded. The right-hand side doesn't fare quite so well -- rotoscoping is a forbidden technique for animation enthusiasts, not a selling point, and Jordan Mechner beat Lucasarts there in '89 in Prince of Persia. I like the cocky one-word summation: "Huge", but that's an easy claim to make, as adventure games such as the earlier Time Zone and Snowball had hundreds and indeed thousands of rooms -- mostly empty, all uninteresting. As it turns out, even filler rooms in this game are beautiful -- Lucasarts never skimped on the production values -- but in this ad you just had to take it on faith. "A new icon interface"? Yawn. "Exciting Lucasarts electronic storytelling technology"? Who else's would you use? "Dramatic theatrical lighting"? I think I saw this in the rat room in Space Quest 3, but it was less subtle in 16 colours and came across as somewhat garish. I don't remember this feature at all, which means that it was probably used tastefully and effectively -- but effective application of good taste still isn't a selling point, it's assumed. The other points are more significant -- the three play modes is an important point almost swept under the rug, while IMUSE is indeed an important (and, alas, dead-end) technology, but again... like with a film soundtrack, it can be said that if a game's soundtrack jumps out at you while playing, it's being ineffective by drawing attention to itself and taking it away from the overall game experience. IMUSE in action really is magical, but it's pointless to talk about it in the game's ad. Guitar Hero aside, nobody buys games based on what they have to say about their soundtrack.

But all things considered, it's a decent ad for a heroic take at an epic game. A bit too much reconstructing of the "Antikythera mechanism" for my tastes, but though important bites of the Indy feel were taken by eg. Flight of the Amazon Queen, this was really a game that no other company could have made.

What will Disney do with the Indiana Jones license and a rapidly-ageing Harrison Ford? Harness his voice? Time will tell. Indiana Jones is a distant number two in Lucasfilm's valuable portfolio of properties, but number three is so far in the distance it's nigh indistinguishable from the horizon. We'll see what juice they manage to squeeze from Indy, though of course we won't be seeing any more adventure games.