Friday, June 20, 2014

"The Space Bar", 1997.

Where have I been? Playing the stuffing out of my new NES? Sadly, not yet. (Maybe soon, however!) The good part about reading really good bloggers in your field such as the CRPG Addict or The Digital Antiquarian is that they inspire you to new heights of greatness. The sad part is that unless these new aspirations are matched with an increase in available time in which to step up one's undertakings, activity dwindles away to a mere trickle. Can't it be enough to just post a neat ad for a cool game once in a while without doing research, conducting interviews, making cross-platform comparisons and writing a footnoted essay?

(Yes. The answer is yes. On Tumblr, where I see whole flotillas of neat ads drifting by every day with little or no context, there wouldn't even be any question. But here, I see a blank screen full of a text entry field, and feel compelled to, well, fill it. No need!)

You've been ordered to interrogate all suspicious-looking characters.

(Better make it a double.)

A comic sci-fi adventure CD-ROM by Steve Meretzky, where even the drinks look suspicious.


InfoCom's subversive comic mastermind Steve Meretzky rolled with the punch after Activision's acquisition of the company sucked the life out of it. Actually, he managed to play both ends against each other, simultaneously developing games for the new old Activision/Infocom like LGOP2 as well as for Infocom's successors at Legend (like The Superhero League of Hoboken), somehow wielding an intense outsider charisma perhaps not entirely dissimilar to the renowned reality distorting effects of the other Steve, who returned from exile back to Apple this year. Maybe there is a certain resemblance.

In any case, Steve had seen the effects of what happens when you are beholden to a single master, who is turned out from his castle. Perhaps seeing which direction the wind was blowing for the briefly-renewed Infocom, unwilling to put all his eggs in Legend's basket (a fate well-avoided, lest he end up scripting cutscenes in Unreal 2), he established Boffo Games with some other InfoCom refugees including Michael Dornbrook, whose game industry career began as the self-proclaimed head of the independent Zork User's Group before being brought in-house to develop InvisiClues... and who ultimately caught lightning in a bottle the second time with Harmonix's Guitar Hero series, one of the only (well, very few) common touchstones between the boom times of InfoCom and Harmonix.

Sadly, this attempt to go it on their own was unsuccessful -- The Space Bar was their final game before closing up shop. It doesn't matter if it was any good -- the whole consarned adventure game genre was on its way out, where it would remain for a decade or more, and their attempts to diversify with the puzzle game Hodj 'n Podj were to no avail, as that genre was also about to be handed a cardboard box with all of its possessions and escorted out of the game shop.

I never got a chance to play the game and it falls in that uneasy area of early multimedia works now that are presumed hard to get running outside of the originally-intended environment. I might well be saving myself from disappointment; the CD-ROM adventure produced very few winners outside of the 7th Guest and Myst, and even those I didn't much like. The setting was probably better handled in Legend's own game adaptation of local author Spider Robinson's "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" books, and it's eminently possible that Steve with The Space Bar and Douglas Adams with Starship Titanic ended up with less working separately 13 years later than they did working together on the HHG game back at InfoCom. All we're left with is a title that's a bit of awkward early-microcomputer wordplay reminiscent of the Zork Chronicles book tie-in, and even that pun has been done better: