A few months ago, I examined the first two of the “Sergeant Duffy” mysteries from Infocom: Deadline and The Witness. Both of these games were in service to the Infocom marathon that I have been working my way through over on The Adventure Gamer. Since those games already had reviews there, I discussed my experiences here. It’s time to do the same with the third and final game in that series: Suspect.
With the first game in the series being designed by Marc Blank, and the second by Stu Galley, I was surprised to find that this one was the brainchild of Dave Lebling. Lebling had been Blank’s collaborator on the original Zork series (starting with the mainframe version) and was one of the most well-regarded of the implementers at Infocom. I do not know whether he wanted to take a crack at the interactive mystery genre or whether he was pushed into it by market pressures, but he was a great choice for the role especially given his past history with Marc Blank. Immediately, it seems that Lebling shifted his game closer to Blank’s original: he moved the setting back to modern day (after a brief stint in the 1930s, film noir style) and brought the crime into a situation where there could be many possible suspects. He moved away from the previous games in one major respect: this time, we do not play as the detective but rather a reporter who is being framed for murder. So did he succeed? Let’s take a look.
Continue reading Infocom’s Suspect (1984) →
(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #9.)
I’ve never hid my obsessions with Doctor Who: I started this blog as a place to talk about the show, as long forgotten as that idea seems now. Douglas Adams was one of the humorists that inspired me, and sometimes kept me sane, as a young man. Combine the two, and I’m in nerd-heaven. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is my fourth DW book this year and that I might end up reading at least two more. On the bright side, it will be the last book that I try to shoehorn into my playing of the Infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide game as I have completed it now (over on The Adventure Gamer) and will be posting the final rating in a day or two.
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is the third posthumous collaboration between James Goss and Douglas Adams, based on his archived papers and notes. The history of this book alone is worth the price of admission: Douglas Adams first wrote a treatment for Krikkitmen back in 1976, during the Fourth Doctor’s tenure with Sarah Jane Smith. The treatment wasn’t accepted for one reason or another, although they clearly liked Mr. Adams’s work enough to bring him onboard. Adams left on it the back-burner, at one point even considering it for a possible theatrical film. Never one to leave a good idea behind, aspects of Krikkitmen made their way into Shada and eventually the main thrust of the book was transposed into the third Hitchhiker’s book, Life, the Universe, and Everything. The Doctor and companion became Arthur and Ford, but otherwise many of the fundamentals remained: a terrible race of white-outfitted robots wielding cricket bats fought a war millions of years ago for the fate of the galaxy. It is the distant racial memory of this terrible war that inspired the game of cricket, although only the English could possibly make a game out of the slaughter of millions. The Doctor ultimately fights this scourge and protects the universe and at one point nearly blows it up by accident himself.
Continue reading “Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen” by Douglas Adams & James Goss (2018) →
(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #8.)
Setting up this reading challenge, which I am dreadfully behind on, I did not expect it to focus on Doctor Who books. This is my third and there may be a few more, but I suppose that is better than not reading at all. Over on “The Adventure Gamer”, I have been covering the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game by Infocom and Douglas Adams. Without a doubt, it is one of the best adventure games of the 1980s, filled with humor, fun, and devilishly difficult puzzles. I highly recommend it! As background research, I have been diving deep into Douglas Adams lore. I have read most of two biographies (focusing on the 1980s), re-read the Hitchhiker’s Guide novel, already covered the radio plays, and now I find myself looking at Douglas Adams’s four serials for Doctor Who, of which only two were produced. The book that I have just finished, Shada, was actually Mr. Adams’s final script for the program and was partly filmed before an industry strike caused it to be shelved and eventually abandoned altogether. If I have time, I plan to read The Krikkitmen, The Pirate Planet, and The City of Death as well.
Continue reading “Shada” by Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts (2012) →
The following story is a personal one, about a game that I played and a project that I worked on many years ago. I want to tell it here, in this format, as something of a time capsule for those of you that played it with me and for those of you that did not. As I have been spending weeks now researching the Hitchhiker’s Guide books and series (for The Adventure Gamer), I could not help but to think back of my own small contribution to HHG fandom: the Hitchhiker’s Guide to TinyTIM. It was, in short, an occasionally funny collaboration by a bunch of kids who played a particular online game in the mid-1990s about the game itself and about life. Some of its short articles were brilliant and others were plagiarism, but it was all done with heart. Before I can explain the “guide”, I need to talk about the game that inspired it.
In the earliest days of the Internet, there were online games. A full history of them would be incredibly fun to research and write, but for our story the key date is 1980: the launch of “MUD”, the first “Multi-User Dungeon”. This system and its dozens (eventually hundreds) of clones, acted like a multi-user version of a text adventure game. In fact, early text adventures such as Colossal Cave were sometimes reimplemented in a MUD context. You moved around using commands like “go west” and talked to people by “say”ing and “whisper”ing. Basic programming languages were implemented inside the games, allowing young programmers to collaborate and extend the game as they played it without having to tinker with the source code. These systems predated Minecraft and modern open-world creation games by decades.
Continue reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to TinyTIM (1991-1996) →
(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #5.)
After The Hobbit and the Prydain Chronicles, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is one of the most influential on my childhood. I long since lost count of how many times I read the various books; I even owned the “bible bound” edition, much to my mother’s consternation. This series changed the way that I saw the world, influenced my sense of humor, and made me smile when almost nothing else could. It’s also a series that I have largely “grown out” of as I haven’t picked up any of the books in more than a decade and my last interaction with the series was watching the 2005 movie when it came out.
In 1984, Infocom collaborated with Douglas Adams to produce an adventure game based on the book. It’s quite a famous game, in the circles where such things can be famous, and I’ll be reviewing it shortly for TAG. Although most people think of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series as books, in fact the first novel was Mr. Adams’s fourth revision of the material: the original radio play, an album version, a stage play, and then finally the novel. For all that I loved the book, I had never experienced any of the original versions. For this project, I picked up the original scripts (published in 1985) for the radio series. The series itself aired in two seasons and a special: a first batch in early 1978, a “Christmas special” that year that had nothing to do with Christmas, and a second season in early 1980. Most of the episodes are written by Douglas Adams, with co-writing credit given for a number of later first season episodes to John Lloyd.
Continue reading “The Original Hitchhiker’s Radio Scripts” by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (1978, 1980) →
(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #4.)
For “The Adventure Gamer”, I have been reviewing Infocom text adventure games from the 1980s. If you are not familiar with the genre, these are games without graphics where you interact with them only through text commands like “pick up the key” or “eat the sandwich”. Sometimes called “interactive fiction”, the form branched out from its Dungeons and Dragons-inspired roots to mysteries, science fiction, pirate adventures, and just about everything else. Since the best “interactive fiction” games were well-written, Infocom experimented with hiring real writers to design the stories, working with their programmers to implement them. Although bigger names would come later, the first writer that Infocom hired was Michael Berlin, a science-fiction writer from Brookline, Massachusetts, who had at that point had published three novels and two computer games. Because of his mix of experience both writing stories and writing software, Infocom felt he was just what they needed. I’ve reviewed the first two (of four) of his games with Infocom already, but as I am about to play his third, now seemed like a great time to dig into his published work starting at the beginning: 1980’s Crystal Phoenix. Let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected.
Continue reading “Crystal Phoenix” by Michael Berlyn (1980) →
As I prepare to play Seastalker for The Adventure Gamer, I am continuing to read Jim Lawrence’s earlier juvenile fiction. Last month, I took a look at my first Hardy Boys story, The Ghost at Skeleton Rock. This time, I wanted to jump back to Mr. Lawrence’s very first (that I have been able to find) published novel, 1954’s Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster.
Tom Swift was, like the Hardy Boys, a Stratemeyer Syndicate series. Like all Syndicate series, Tom Swift stories were written by a pseudonym consisting of a collection of writers and editors rather than a specific individual. Individual stories could be outlined by one author, written by a second, and edited by a third before having a finished product. (And, in a few cases, completely rewritten by a fourth for re-releases.) Tom Swift stories were actually among the oldest of the series, with the first novel, Tom Swift and his Motorcycle, published in 1910. In these early stories, Tom Swift was an adventurer and inventor who solved problems using the power of his intellect and his increasingly sci-fi inventions. Unlike most of the later series, Tom Swift was allowed to age over the course of his adventurers, eventually getting married and having a son, Tom Swift Jr. His son then became the star of the stories from the 1950s onward, although from that point the characters did not continue to age through their original runs. The original continuity ended in 1971 although three further Tom Swift series were released through the mid-00s. It’s likely the stories will be picked up again.
Continue reading “Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster” by Jim Lawrence (1954) →
In the next couple of weeks, over on The Adventure Gamer, I will be playing Seastalker. I mentioned this earlier in my review of a Hardy Boys mystery, and I am presently working my way through stories featuring Tom Swift, Jr. and Nancy Drew. All of these young-adult novels were written by Jim Lawrence, but you would never know it from their covers. Jim was a dedicated ghostwriter, creating fiction that he would never get credit for. Nonetheless, I have become quite interested in his history and have started to pull together a bibliography of his books based on various sources that I found online. This is most likely not a complete list. This is made more complicated by the fact that there are at least three authors named Jim (or James) Lawrence, including one artist who worked in comics. Trying to separate out which Mr. Lawrence wrote what has been quite a challenge!
That’s where you come in. Do you know of any additional works by Jim Lawrence? Do you have details of specific radio play scripts that he wrote? If so, please drop me a note below. For everyone else, here is the list that I have gathered so far:
Continue reading Jim Lawrence’s Bibliography →
This week, at approaching four decades old, I read my first Hardy Boys book. In specific, I read the thirty-seventh Hardy Boys book, The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, ghost-written by Jim Lawrence. It’s a strange place to start, but my interest is not with the Hardy Boys in general (although I find the whole industry that produces these serial books fascinating), but rather with the author, the late Jim Lawrence. Over on The Adventure Gamer, I have been slowly working my way through all of the games created by Infocom. In a few weeks, I’ll start playing Seastalker, the twelfth adventure, and the first written by the pair of Stu Galley and Jim Lawrence. The game is Infocom’s first “juvenile” game and they brought on board a master of juvenile fiction to help script it. By the 1980s, Jim had already proven himself a master of juvenile fiction across radio, newspaper comics, and books– most of the latter ghostwritten for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. To ensure I approached his game with an understanding of the genre, I committed myself to reading several of Jim’s original books. This is my first.
Continue reading “The Ghost at Skeleton Rock” by Jim Lawrence (1957) →
Not too long ago, I took a look at Deadline, Infocom’s first adventure game mystery as a side-story to the marathon that I’m currently writing for The Adventure Gamer. It was a genre-buster, proving once and for all that great adventures could be found in many genres. I am still slowly winding my way through early Infocom classics and I have finally reached Deadline’s pseudo-sequel: 1983’s The Witness. Tucked away in the middle of a run of science fiction adventures (after Starcross and Suspended but before Planetfall), it abandoned the contemporary setting of its predecessor for the hard-boiled detectives of the 1930s. Even though my colleague Ilmari already reviewed this game, I could not resist poking my head in to get the full Infocom experience.
While Deadline has been designed by Mark Blanc, one of the Infocom founders and co-writer on the Zork series, he did not have time to work on the sequel. Instead, he provided some aspects of the basic scenario to design-newcomer Stu Galley. Stu had been an Infocom founder, but he worked on the business side rather than the creative one. Nonetheless, Marc had too much on his plate and Stu was convinced to headline the game. Even from the start it is different than what came before: this time, the crime has not been committed yet. We’re going to witness the crime (hence, the title) and have twelve hours to figure out what really happened. Let’s play!
Continue reading Infocom’s The Witness (1983) →