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ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


LET'S GO IN SEARCH OF THE MOST AMAZING THING



In Search of the Most Amazing Thing was a computer game created by Tom Snyder Productions and published by Spinnaker Software in 1983 for the IBM PC, the Commodore 64, the Atari 8-bit home computers, and the Apple II. Spinnaker Software was primarily known for its educational games, and this was presented as one at the time.

Here in 2019, I think we'd disagree. In Search of the Most Amazing Thing is in fact a complicated action-adventure game, with some serious interface issues and a developer, publisher, and audience that were not yet familiar with "action-adventure game" even as a concept. E.T. had just been an enormous failure the year before, and Pitfall II would be a proper success a year later. Here... well, nobody was quite sure what to make of here. Not even Spinnaker itself.

As we'll also see in this LP, the game is pretty inaccessible as well. I was arguably too young for the game when I tried to play it, and did not get very far in it. It is also quite clear that I was not alone in this. Oddly for a game of this vintage, there are basically no walkthroughs, no fan articles beyond a few enthusiastic comments on forums, and no longplays or even shortplays on YouTube—the most I found were captures of its extensive attract screen.

This is a pity, and I'm going to fix that. My goals are twofold: show off as much of the design as I can, and solve it thoroughly and clearly enough that the LP can work as a walkthrough and not merely as a longplay.

I'd like to say it's also a fun game that people should play, but, honestly, I can't. I do think it's interesting to look at, though, and it's more interesting when the tedious bits get compressed or smoothed out. I can play it, so you don't have to.

ManxomeBromide fucked around with this message at 06:47 on Dec 12, 2019

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ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


I don't really have anything in mind for reserving the second post, but it's tradition.

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


Part 1: A Story About Our Uncle

The moment we start the game, we are presented with a choice: do we even want to play it?



Memory constraints are pretty tight. This game is constantly doing the equivalent of loading and unloading DLLs to keep only what it really needs in memory at any given time. Because of that, you have to ask for the attract screen because running it will crowd out everything else.

Sure, we'll take a look at it. Once again, the first thing it tells us is how to make it stop:



Weirdly enough, everywhere in the game itself, F1 is the "save game" button, not "quit". Anyway, we now get a brief but extremely dense wall of text explaining the basic setup and the various tasks before us:





One of the reasons it's being so dense here is because if we're planning on playing the game, we're supposed to know it all already. The game shipped with a 100-page novella named The Adventures of Smoke Bailey, chronicling the adventures of our uncle as a young man.

In brief: he grew up in an extremely boring mid-20th-century-tech agricultural area of the planet Porquatz, and then a fortune teller at a carnival told him he had a great destiny on the other side of the world, so he stole the carnival's balloon ride (the A-Liner) and flew it there, to the vast tarry hellhole known as the Darksome Mire. There he had many adventures, befriended some of the Mire Folk, claimed The Most Amazing Thing for his own, and then was forced to abandon it somewhere in Darksome Mire. He then found the major technological civilization in the region and spent most of his life as a trader and bard amongst them and the Mire Folk, eventually earning enough to upgrade his stolen carnival balloon into a mighty hypertech airship, the B-Liner.

At this point, he was very old. His younger brother, though, had a child—us—bored out of our mind back in the same region of Porquatz. So he sent the B-Liner to pick us up so that we might finish the quest he was forced to abandon.

So we can be expected to recognize the various things mentioned in passing here because they were in the manual, and also in the story about our uncle. In case that isn't enough, though, the demonstration then gives a reasonably detailed walkthrough for the first third or so of the game. I'll be skipping that because we'll be doing that ourselves in these updates. It concludes with a message to parents and teachers about what an educational game this is. I'll be holding off on sharing that until we see the game in action and can judge for ourselves.

It then loops back to the "Press F1 to quit" screen. Fine. We press F1 and are brought back to the first screen. This time we say we want to play a real game.



This spectacularly poorly worded question is actually asking us which of two save slots we want to use.



And having selected it, it then asks if we want to delete it. It's 1983. The concept of UX won't be invented for like 15 years, and it kind of shows.

We're starting a new game here, so we do want to delete it, and thus we hit N.



Gender neutral pronouns from an earlier age. We then get a really impressively smooth animated sequence of us flying our jetpack past the credits over to the B-Liner and the entrance to the primary technological civilization on Porquatz:



The great underground city of Metallica. This one is full of robots, though.

The band we think of here in 2019 when we see that name had only been founded two years ago at the time this game was published. I am just barely willing to play along with the idea that the authors did not know exactly what they were doing here.

We are then given our list of money: 5 red chips, 5 yellow chips, and 30 green chips. The Metallicans use green chips for money. Red and yellow chips are useless to us at the moment.



This is the part of Metallica we actually have access to. (The city proper is the yawning void beneath us, and the elevator does not let us go down that far.) We've been given a clear goal already, though, and the manual has reinforced it:



I link this version of the letter because in noting that nobody's ever flown the B-Liner before and that it is intrinsically super-risky to do so, he seems to have forgotten how we got here in the first place. He put us, an eleven-year-old child, alone, in this thing and trusted its autopilot to land at exactly the right point in a tar pit the size of an entire continent.

Uncle Smoke is perhaps a bit reckless and maybe does not have our best interests at heart, is all I'm saying, here.

But sure, let's stop off at his apartment and let him know that we didn't drown in tar.



Sure thing, loading screen.



Uncle Smoke is napping here, in the glorious cyan-magenta-white of default CGA graphics. In all honesty, though, one of the reasons I'm playing the DOS version here is that it really makes extremely deft use of the CGA card's preposterously limited palette.



In theory, if you pester him too rapidly, he'll get mad and throw you out, but the timing code for that was tuned to a 4.77MHz PC XT and I've never been able to trigger it.



He wakes up, sees us, and then manages one sentence before falling back asleep again. What the heck, Uncle Smoke.





That's more like it. He also has nothing to say to us after he's given us something, so off we go.



Sounds good. Next stop: the Galactic Auction House.

ManxomeBromide fucked around with this message at 09:07 on Jan 1, 2020

TooMuchAbstraction
Oct 14, 2012

Hubris

Fun Shoe

I'm always down for looking at these curious oldschool games. It's kind of like looking at outsider art, except in this case it's "outsider" because the rules of the form hadn't been established yet.

Seraphic Neoman
Jul 19, 2011




Man looking at all this is kind of amazing. You kinda have to let your imagination do a lot of legwork, but that's part of the charm.

malkav11
Aug 7, 2009


I get the sense that there may be...reasons...ol' Uncle Smoke got his moniker.

Loxbourne
Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom. But now, tea!


Good grief, this concept is straight out of a Golden Age Heinlein novel. All we need is Uncle Bailey to refuse to keep a bank account and we're firmly in Have Space Suit... territory.

Tendales
Mar 9, 2012


This game fascinated the hell out of me as a little kid, playing it on the Atari 1200XL. I never quite managed the patience or focus to actually figure out any of the game's more opaque mechanics, but flying the B-liner around was pretty fun. I read that novella a bunch, too.

Carados
Jan 27, 2009

We're a couple, when our bodies double.


Your uncle really isn't a master of puppets is he? If your hot air balloon thing crashes he'll be unforgiven. I can just imagine the fade to black in that scenario.

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


Around update 3 we'll get to see how they colored the world.

Randalor
Sep 4, 2011




Oh... Oh dear lord... Is everything magenta or do they switch to one of the more muted pallets for the sake of our eyes and sanity?

Iunnrais
Jul 25, 2007

It's gaelic.

Turns out, the CGA graphics mode was designed with a completely different display device in mind-- not monitors, but composite cables and CRT TVs. Those awful magentas and cyans get distorted by composite cables and actually blur together to create 16 colors (from 4 pallets-- so 64 colors in total) that don't look like poo poo, while only requiring 2 bits per pixel! Mind you those pixels were quite fuzzy and ill-defined... terrible for text... but for graphics they weren't THAT bad for the day.

The 8-bit guy on youtube did a pretty neat demonstration on it.

I hear DOSbox can simulate the composite CGA mode, but I haven't tried it myself.

Iunnrais fucked around with this message at 13:05 on Nov 24, 2019

Rocket Baby Dolls
Mar 3, 2006

Normally I don't make aesthetic criticisms in other peoples' homes, but that rug looks like a beaver exploded. If meat is murder, then that rug is at least a severe beating.

When Smoke says "The most amazing thing", is he referring to some sort of implement that's used for smoking burning "incense"?

Rocket Baby Dolls fucked around with this message at 13:33 on Nov 24, 2019

inflatablefish
Oct 24, 2010


Iunnrais posted:

Turns out, the CGA graphics mode was designed with a completely different display device in mind-- not monitors, but composite cables and CRT TVs. Those awful magentas and cyans get distorted by composite cables and actually blur together to create 16 colors (from 4 pallets-- so 64 colors in total) that don't look like poo poo, while only requiring 2 bits per pixel! Mind you those pixels were quite fuzzy and ill-defined... terrible for text... but for graphics they weren't THAT bad for the day.

The 8-bit guy on youtube did a pretty neat demonstration on it.

I hear DOSbox can simulate the composite CGA mode, but I haven't tried it myself.

Wow. You have blown my mind. This explains so much about how awful all those graphics were!

Randalor
Sep 4, 2011




Iunnrais posted:

Turns out, the CGA graphics mode was designed with a completely different display device in mind-- not monitors, but composite cables and CRT TVs. Those awful magentas and cyans get distorted by composite cables and actually blur together to create 16 colors (from 4 pallets-- so 64 colors in total) that don't look like poo poo, while only requiring 2 bits per pixel! Mind you those pixels were quite fuzzy and ill-defined... terrible for text... but for graphics they weren't THAT bad for the day.

The 8-bit guy on youtube did a pretty neat demonstration on it.

I hear DOSbox can simulate the composite CGA mode, but I haven't tried it myself.

Oh, I know. I love that video because he actually shows the effect on an actual monitor. But still, why not one of the other pallets? Even just the darker toned one of this one?

Tendales
Mar 9, 2012


Iunnrais posted:

Turns out, the CGA graphics mode was designed with a completely different display device in mind-- not monitors, but composite cables and CRT TVs. Those awful magentas and cyans get distorted by composite cables and actually blur together to create 16 colors (from 4 pallets-- so 64 colors in total) that don't look like poo poo, while only requiring 2 bits per pixel! Mind you those pixels were quite fuzzy and ill-defined... terrible for text... but for graphics they weren't THAT bad for the day.

The 8-bit guy on youtube did a pretty neat demonstration on it.

I hear DOSbox can simulate the composite CGA mode, but I haven't tried it myself.

Programs had to be specifically designed with composite in mind to take advantage of that feature, and unfortunately very few were. I have no idea if this is one of the few examples.

Rosemont
Nov 4, 2009


Thanks for the thread! I love when people dig up or talk about older video games that aren't as well-known or remembered as other ones from the period. It feels like you're doing a bit of anthropology. Looking forward to the adventures our protagonist get up to.

SatansOnion
Dec 12, 2011



Rocket Baby Dolls posted:

When Smoke says "The most amazing thing", is he referring to some sort of implement that's used for smoking burning "incense"?

I have no idea at all to what you might possibly be referring, but it’s a well-known fact that Smoke Bailey suffers from glaucoma anxiety glaucoma anxiety so clearly the Thing is critically important to his aromatherapy routine

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


Part 2: Racketeer

Last time, Uncle Smoke gave us a photo of the A-Liner's first flight to auction off to the Metallicans for money to help outfit the B-Linker. Let's go do that.



Here are our would-be buyers, all of whom have more money than sense:



You know, given that Uncle Smoke stole the A-Liner, I think we may be auctioning off photographic evidence of his crimes.

Oh well. I'm sure the statute of limitations is long past, and it's not like the Metallica is in the jurisdiction of our home continent, anyway.



Items can be sold for between 1 and 9 green chips, and we can sound out our buyers before we actually commit to a price. Let's try that out.



You know, we are an 11-year-old child, fresh off the airship, from a rural backwater, and a fleshbag bumpkin... and here we are greeting a society of robots as equals without any hesitation, bold as brass. We're honestly kind of badass. At this point in his career Harry Potter was still spending unwise amounts of money on unwise amounts of candy. Maybe Uncle Smoke knew what he was doing, after all.

Then again...

Loxbourne posted:

Good grief, this concept is straight out of a Golden Age Heinlein novel.
...this is consistent with a mid-20th-century-tech-level farmboy walking into a futuristic civilization and having no problems.



I get the impression that Metallicans are supposed to basically be the Mire Folk, but robots; the novella and the manual make it clear that normally Mire Folk speak with their antennae in a sort of semaphore-like sign language. It seems like the Metallicans are entirely capable of talking, though.

With a reaction like that, 7 chips was clearly lowball. I bump it up a bit for the final price. They hem and haw, but then...



... Before preparing for this LP, I had not actually played this game in over 30 years. I still remembered "Fizpa wizh?". I will carry "Fizpa wizh?" to my grave.

Here's a video of the sale sequence. I do like how they managed to get Celeste-style tone-bending speech out of the PC speaker here.

But that's just one sale. I'm going to need a lot more chips, so I'll be repeating this process of visiting Smoke and auctioning off his stuff ten more times. Sometimes I overshoot on the price and have to offer a lower one to get a sale...



And sometimes they refuse my final price anyway.



In these cases, those shiny bastards just straight up steal the item you priced too high.



Every time we pick up a new item from Uncle Smoke, he gives us some new advice and a random item. The advice comes in sequence, and the items are random. The amount of green chips the auction house is willing to pay for each item is also random and seems to be inconsistent even if you get the same item twice.

: My old trunk is full of stuff from my travels.
: The robots like to steal your items at the auction.
: After you buy everything for your balloon go outside.
: Try to figure out how to sell to those finicky robots.
: Out there are many huts where the Traders live.
: There are 25 different cultures. Each one is different.
: Traders will sell you Amazing Thing clues for chips.
: In some cultures a red chip is worth 4 green chips.
: In some cultures a yellow chip could equal 2 red chips.
: The value of chips is different in every culture.
: Going to the right cultures you can collect a lot of chips.

Sounds like we're being pushed to wildly abuse arbitrage opportunities here, and he's not kidding; the first time I beat the game, I accidentally crashed it because I'd managed to amass more chips than it actually knew how to save in the save file... and instead of saving out -32,767 chips or something it just crashed at the point it was going to save.

Here's a list of all the items he can give you, mined from its data files:
  • chunk of Night Rock
  • Popberry tree bark
  • wicker basket from the A-Liner
  • glass fragment from the Glass Mountains
  • Gaxonfrax tail feather
  • white rubber snow
  • silver hair from the Being
  • jar of red smoke from the Being's fire
  • rare pink chip found in the Otbrak
  • piece of nylon from the A-Liner balloon
  • zirconium baby rattle from ZyZy
  • Jave gerbil fur
  • petrified tar beetle from Fondef
  • hailstorm photo from Camawhy
  • jar of Popberry rind from Hogaan
  • colored sand from Odask
  • Laska snakeskin
  • Popberry branch basket
  • rug made by Muffijians
  • Beribey Trutix shell
  • Mire Crab photo from Logretch
  • Nutrile chip bracelet
  • Gaxonfrax egg
  • dried Muhill mushroom
  • rare Bunchmark photo
  • braided belt made by a Fastak trader
  • petrified clamshell from a Treliss bog
  • bent fork from a Kertoff family
  • ant from Sloping mire
  • ancient Fongole book
  • tape recording of a Jave trading session
  • umbrella made in Paelasia
  • original A-Liner plan
  • earmuff woven from Popberry bark
  • book bag used by Thomizek children
  • candle made by Watersi traders
  • fossil of ancient Solvaque fish
  • teacup used by a Maxaze family
  • photo of a nest of a Gaxonfrax
  • Otbrak soil sample
  • gravity fuel gauge from the A-Liner
  • take-off photo of A-Liner's first flight
  • Odask diary bought from the head trader
  • Mire Crab crust

Most of these things are references to beings or cultures that actually exist in the game, or that are actual callouts to his adventures in the novella. It's a nice touch.

Anyway, now that we've got a solid chunk of chips, let's go outfit the B-Liner. To the Galactic Store!



The "Catalogue" is just a couple pages in the manual, alas, and not a full-scale feelie like we'd probably get a few years later on.

The store itself is a giant hallway with little offshoots for aisles, sort like a cosmic IKEA:



We can move our shopping cart (the box) around with the arrow keys to go head down various aisles to see what we can see. That gets us a separate view:



Checking the Catalogue, we see that "DIR-?" and "High?" are heading and altimeter instruments for the B-Liner. Those sound pretty useful.



Given the amount of speculation in the thread so far about how exactly "Uncle Smoke" got that name, I'm just going to leave this prompt here without comment.



We get "High?" with no difficulty and proceed to the rest of our purchases. Uncle Smoke did tell us we should buy everything for our balloon, after all.



In an also nice nod to the backstory, though, we don't have to buy the Autopilot. After all, that was how we got here, wasn't it?



Oh boy, POSIX! We'll be able to run a modern OS on the B-Liner's computer!

But no. Uncle Smoke wasn't merely advising us to buy everything for our balloon—he was advising us to buy everything for our balloon. The Galactic Store is also full of expensive garbage that is useless to us. POSIX is an electronic trash destroyer that costs 25 green chips. Everything useful only costs 7-10, and the only ones that cost 10 are DIR-? and AutoP.

Now, if we didn't have the manual, because we were filthy pirates or because, more likely, we were small children playing the game on borrowed time at a public library, all would not be lost. The B-Liner's controls are clearly marked and attempting to use something you haven't purchased reports the very thing you did not purchase, so poking around the B-Liner's controls and onboard computer would get you a list of things you definitely wanted to buy.

But even then, you might be tempted by the 23-chip TURBO or the 29-chip LIFT 5. Those sound like they might beef up your balloon quite a bit. But no. TURBO is a robot toothbrush. LIFT 5 is a spare elevator button. Probably not coincidentally, LIFT 5 is the most expensive item in the game. No refunds!

But you know what was a coincidence? "Posix." POSIX—the IEEE standard that specifies a somewhat handwavy, non-trademarked Unix—was not released until 1988, and didn't even start until 1985, two years after this game came out.



These looks like extremely valuable pieces of software that will in no way corrupt our youth. Into the cart with you both!

As we make to leave the store, we can see how far we've come:



Even in 1983, we knew how 3D was supposed to work. At any rate, 11 trips to the auction was enough to get enough chips to buy everything in the catalog that the B-Liner can equip and that we didn't already have. That's pretty good luck, all told; I think I only had three items that didn't sell for over six chips. That means it's time to go back to the B-Liner. We take the elevator all the way up and...



We can control the jetpack with the numeric keypad. However, the keys control our acceleration direction, and they are sticky. If I tap right, I'll begin accelerating right and keep accelerating until I tap left, at which point I will cruise until I tap left again to start slowing down. It takes some getting used to, but it's not terrible.

One fun thing about the PC port here is that if you look closely at that animation, you'll see that we turn blue when we're in front of Metallica's entrance panels and also become black-on-white instead of white-on-black when flying in front of the B-Liner. It keeps you visible, even with just a 4-color palette, which is pretty nice. But what's also nice is that it's getting this effect for free.

You see, the PC doesn't have hardware sprites the way the Commodore 64 or the NES did. However, it did have (at least if you had a CGA card installed) dedicated VRAM for the graphics RAM and you could work with it pretty quickly, and with pixel-level precision, without much hassle. You didn't get the insane mathematical backflips necessary to compute pixel operations on the C64, or the weird "memory holes" like the Apple had. The only weird bit is that even and odd scanlines are in different chunks of VRAM, but even that isn't weird when you remember that displays were interlaced so this was actually "just store the pixels in the order they'll be coming out".

So our "sprites" aren't actually getting drawn on the screen. Instead, it's a mask where black and white pixels trade colors, and red and blue pixels do likewise. The nice thing about that is that you "erase" the previous frame just by redrawing it in the same place. That's a big part of how it's getting animation speeds as smooth as it is; it never has to redraw any backgrounds.

Well, not until the whole screen changes, anyway. We fly over to the ladder and hit the spacebar, and this takes us into the B-Liner's main cabin:



There's a lot to take in here. As we get our bearings, one question burns in our minds:

... A robot toothbrush? Is that a toothbrush for robots or a toothbrush that is a robot?



Probably both, to be honest.

ManxomeBromide fucked around with this message at 09:12 on Jan 1, 2020

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


I'm enjoying the discussions of the CGA alternate-palette stuff. This came up before when I did my Ultima 1 LP, most of the points were covered here already, but here's some extra stuff on this...

You could convince a CGA card to give you one of several 16-color palettes if you had it hooked to a TV instead of a monitor. DOSbox can simulate it, but and has for some time if you set up your technique in a certain way, but the graphics mode that In Search of the Most Amazing Thing uses is not that way and neither was Ultima II. The most recent versions will allow it if you specifically configure a CGA mode, but back when I ran Ultima I I had to make a custom build:



Even with the colors in place, it's still pretty hideous, and it's got a lot of blur and color artifacting that makes the text hard to read and ruins the nice sharp lines of the mountains.

The PC version of In Search of the Most Amazing Thing is mostly solid colors and extremely sharp linework; I judge that it is definitely intended to be displayed on a CGA monitor. I would also generally suggest that even with the awful four-color palette, the CGA monitor was the normal and expected use case for the vast majority, because you can't do a screen like this on a television:



The color-artifacting of the CGA composite-video mode will smear each letter into being only two pixels wide. That's really not OK.

In addition to the tricks with TV output, though, if you had a monitor you could use the CGA's (unironically very good, for a 16-color palette) 16-color palette all at once, and get some pretty good results. Those tricks stopped working once you installed an EGA or VGA card later, though.

If you combine both these tricks you can do some truly bonkers stuff that gets you over a thousand colors out of a CGA card on a television screen, but this was extremely finicky to the point of having to tune everything to specific instances of hardware. There's a reason this wasn't developed until 2015, and why it wasn't replicated later.

The later EGA card could display 16 colors from a palette of 64, but it was most common to set the same 16 colors that were the CGA's full text mode palette. This let you run EGA games on a CGA monitor and get stuff that looks like this:



The ill-fated PCjr and the less ill-fated Tandy 1000 could do this without being fully EGA-capable and the Tandy 1000 stayed respectable a long time.

All that said, while the PC version of this game doesn't use color artifacting tricks, some of the other versions did. I'm going to do a version comparison once we've gotten far enough into the game that I can be comprehensive about comparing stuff, and I'll be going into more detail then.

MagusofStars
Mar 31, 2012




So is there ANY purpose for the other items or are they just “haha, RTFM dummy” traps?

I might just have played too many Sierra-style adventure games though, because spare elevator button just screams at me “this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll need 10 hours down the line to not get stuck in an unwinnable state”.

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


MagusofStars posted:

So is there ANY purpose for the other items or are they just “haha, RTFM dummy” traps?

I might just have played too many Sierra-style adventure games though, because spare elevator button just screams at me “this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll need 10 hours down the line to not get stuck in an unwinnable state”.

There isn't any obvious change in the B-Liner or anything if you get them, and in particular you do not get to hang out with your bitchin' robot toothbrush or whatever if you buy one.

That said, I do appreciate that here we have The Item Shop and it's actually stocking items that the locals might want, as opposed to catering to one particular mad scientist balloonist kid.

That said, "how item shops work" hadn't even really been nailed down yet, either; Ultima and Wizardry! both existed at this point but neither The Bard's Tale nor Might and Magic did. None of the famous Japanese properties existed yet (though the folks who made them were probably nerding out extremely hard about Wizardry at this point and planning to make something like it in the near future).

Discendo Vox
Mar 21, 2013

Nothing scarier than an artillery barrage -- Am I right?


Glad to be witnessing another wonderful thread!

SelenicMartian
Sep 14, 2013

Sometimes it's not the bomb that's retarded.



ManxomeBromide posted:

None of the famous Japanese properties existed yet (though the folks who made them were probably nerding out extremely hard about Wizardry at this point and planning to make something like it in the near future).
Yuji Horii had just released the original Portopia

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


Not going to lie, one of the hard parts about placing this game in historical context is figuring out which modern context we should be putting it in.

SelenicMartian
Sep 14, 2013

Sometimes it's not the bomb that's retarded.



It's the year of M.U.L.E., Moondust and Jetpac. Infocom has just started with their feelies. King's Quest and MacVenture don't exist yet. The Prisoner 2 is out, and taking the piss out of the early Sierra games. Activision and EA are still the good guys.

Loxbourne
Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom. But now, tea!


Are the shop's "consumer" items resealable? Can they be used as trade goods?

Why, the many-fanged Grobkbeasts of Aaugh might pay a fortune in chips for a sentient robot toothbrush!

idonotlikepeas
May 29, 2010

This reasoning is possible for forums user idonotlikepeas!


This is literally the first game I ever played; my family got it along with an Apple IIE when I was small. I remember all of this crap; Uncle Smoke, who I did wake up too fast on more than one occasion, the auctions, getting impatient and going out without all the balloon gear (which you can absolutely do), the location and nature of the Most Amazing Thing, all of it. The game is clunky as hell, but it had a lot of imagination for the era, and you can definitely tell it came out before a lot of the standard genre conventions were nailed down. As a small child, I recall that I also developed a superstition that the robots would be more likely to accept my sale price if I held my thumb over the activity light on the keyboard.

As far as I remember, the stuff you can't use in your balloon has no purpose in the game aside from wasting your green chips, although it's conceivable that there was something I didn't figure out back then.

Slaan
Mar 16, 2009

I GAIN POWER FROM EATING PEOPLE, JUST ASSUME I'M ALWAYS VOTING TO EAT PEOPLE



Nap Ghost

Can we really consider dealing with the hazards of life by massively overspending in a consumerist hellhole in an attempt to fill the empty void inside us due to the neglect of society, our parents and Uncle Smoke to be a 'waste', though?

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


SelenicMartian posted:

It's the year of M.U.L.E., Moondust and Jetpac. Infocom has just started with their feelies. King's Quest and MacVenture don't exist yet. The Prisoner 2 is out, and taking the piss out of the early Sierra games. Activision and EA are still the good guys.

I've come to the conclusion that the lineage of games most like In Search of the Most Amazing Thing are the Starflight series, which would put Star Control 2 in there too. The game is much simpler, and many mechanics are (as we shall see) heavily defanged, but the target age for players was 10-12.

Loxbourne posted:

Are the shop's "consumer" items resealable? Can they be used as trade goods?

Why, the many-fanged Grobkbeasts of Aaugh might pay a fortune in chips for a sentient robot toothbrush!

Alternately, given that the Mire Folk, while nomadic and not really players on the Galactic scene, are clearly the templates for the Metallicans, and we're the ones from the grass-covered backwater hellhole, are the Master Traders of the Thomizek really going to want to parley with some hayseed like us who manually brushes our own teeth?

idonotlikepeas posted:

This is literally the first game I ever played; my family got it along with an Apple IIE when I was small. I remember all of this crap; Uncle Smoke, who I did wake up too fast on more than one occasion, the auctions, getting impatient and going out without all the balloon gear (which you can absolutely do), the location and nature of the Most Amazing Thing, all of it.

Great! Hopefully I can find some corners of this you've forgotten or never found in the first place.

Dr. Quarex
Apr 18, 2003

I'M A BIG DORK WHO POSTS TOO MUCH ABOUT CONVENTIONS LOOK AT THIS

TOVA TOVA TOVA


!!!

YESSSSSSSS

Thanks for the private message because uh, I think the last time I even contemplated entering this subforum was when I almost "Let's Play"ed Wasteland in 2012

I played this on a shared public library computer as a 6-year-old (thanks for the shout-out omg) and, as ManxomeBromide pointed out in the Games Only You Liked thread, this meant I had absolutely no chance of making any progress in this game, between being a young child and playing it where obviously any save I made would quite likely be overwritten by the next time I played

Oh and Spinnaker Software being a Massachusetts-based company and Metallica's debut album not even coming out until 1983 and their earlier tapes probably barely making it to the East Coast that soon... yeah even given this it was probably still that Metallica, but Tom Snyder probably did not envision the name as a reference that was going to have the same kind of name recognition years later as naming the city "Michael Jackson"

Man. SMOKE STORE AUCTION I always wanted to go to the bottom and hang out there, because of course I wanted to do anything but actually play the game the right way from an early age

I am pretty sure I did get kicked out of his room for waking him up too quickly and then was convinced I could not talk to him again. I have memories of this game thwarting me in so many different ways, and I have no idea why I kept coming back to it. Maybe because I could not get past the part of Grolier Software's "The Isle of Mem" where you had to name Mohammed's tribe. Ah, the Quraysh. All right, time to go see if my save is still there at the Normal Public Library Apple IIe station, which surely must still be set up, as this is 1990.

Good lord Popberry Trees, the specific nostalgia from these posts is feeling to me like encountering the ruins of the progenitor race in an RPG; you knew they must exist, but you thought all these fragments would never be seen by human eyes again

Oh glad that Huulk Hogaan's Popberry Rind Shoes would get some use in this game

OH MY GOD THE STORE SCREEN AHHHHHHHHHHHH wow. WOW. I think I just got shivers from seeing that again.

The context this should be put in is that it is a game with something resembling an economy, something resembling action gameplay, and something resembling a storyline with defined goals. Finding these things in conjunction in 1983 elsewhere seems virtually impossible. Caverns of Freitag is the only candidate that immediately comes to mind, and the action there was tile-based. Yes I am sure someone else will point out a dozen other titles but yeah, obviously I agree it is a possible ancestor of Starflight/Star Control, but if you think about it, it is also an ancestor of Ultima VIII! Oops wait. But still an astoundingly forward-looking game in some ways, since again nobody knew what was really possible so nobody knew what to limit themselves to yet

idonotlikepeas
May 29, 2010

This reasoning is possible for forums user idonotlikepeas!


We ended up getting a lot of the Spinnaker catalogue; they had a detective game called Snooper Troopers that involved breaking into peoples' basements as an investigative technique, a rather wonderful Alice in Wonderland adaptation, a line of chess games, an adaptation of Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber, a make-your-own-adventure-game kit, and a "game" where terrifying nightmare faces would sing nursery rhymes to you. They were kind of all over the place, but that was part of the fun.

FairGame
Jul 24, 2001


This is fascinating and for once a game I'm a BIT too young to have a recollection of. Cut my teeth on Wizardry. No nostalgia for this particular game, but absolutely a ton for this ERA and I'm loving it.

ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


Part 3: A Venture



Here we are in the B-Liner's main cabin and cockpit. This is where we'll formulate, and carry out, most of our plans.



The B-Computer runs the software we bought at the Galactic Store. These are mostly database programs, and while we don't have anything to look up right now, the information in those databases is absolutely critical to winning the game.

: The software in the Galactic Store must be bought.

I'll be weaving Uncle Smoke's advice through the updates from here on out. While the advice comes out in a linear order, its usefulness is extremely variable. Information that only makes sense in the endgame shows up before explanations of basic mechanics.



This game has sleep and hunger timers. Worse, they're not tied to the system clock, so running on a faster computer makes them advance faster. On the plus side, it's still pretty generous (I'm running the game at approximately three times its intended speed, which makes it enormously less clunky to control and interact with, and I'm still not regularly hitting the limits), and letting the timers grow doesn't do anything besides make the screen nag you about being sleepy or hungry. Also, we can sleep whenever we want because we're never far from the B-Liner, and sleeping when we need it also has us "recall" some advice from Uncle Smoke in a dream. I put "recall" in scare quotes because as players we won't have seen it before; this will be exactly like chatting with him back in Metallica.



The Control Panel is mostly for flying the B-Liner, but it's got some useful other meters and sensors as well. Everything we bought that wasn't B-Computer software was something here.



The B-Liner isn't just a balloon, either; it's also a buggy. Driving gets its own set of controls.



And of course we've got our jetpack, for when we need some EVA.

Let's take a closer look at the Control Panel. It's three big switches, a display, and a bunch of buttons:



BURNER and DROP control the balloon, firing the burner to gain altitude or venting air to lose it quickly. (Hot air cools, so if both switches are off we will gradually lose altitude when aloft.) WHERE indicates our location on the map.



Apparently Metallica is in sector R15. That matches the map in the manual:



We also see the DIR-? display here, which shows that we have no heading because we aren't moving. We can also look at our altitude, which shows that we are on the ground.



As long as we're on the ground, let's drive.




We're the circle. The warp pipe there is Metallica. And up there in the corner is something that looks like a big rock.

Driving controls are much like the jetpack, but we can also hit 5 on the numeric keypad to brake, and we've got much better control over our speed. We can add a tick of speed in any direction with a keypress, and get some pretty precise angles out of it. We drive over to the big rook and leave the B-Liner to check it out.



Yep. That's a big rock. Further east we find this:



: You'll need food out there. Shake a Popberry tree for food.

Good plan. This is how we deal with hunger. We start getting pestered about food once our hunger hits 500, and it increases by some small fraction every time through the keyboard-reading menu loop. Popberries are how we drop our hunger.



In The Adventures of Smoke Bailey the Popberry leaves were serious threats to the A-Liner's gasbag. The B-Liner is made of sterner stuff; harvesting Popberries is tedious but perfectly safe. Fly over to a branch and hit the spacebar...



Then fly down to the fallen berry and hit the space bar again.



That's 100 units of hunger dropped. If you aren't being pestered, five Popberries will fill us up completely.

: Popberries that have popped sink into the tar very quickly.

I was just getting to that. The place Popberries actually pop to is random, so a lousy launch...



... almost certainly results in a lousy lunch.



Well, we weren't very hungry anyway. Continuing to the east we find this strange formation:



A bright line, carved in the tar.

: Lines on the Mire will help you navigate when driving.

Oho. Perhaps this is the meridian dividing the sectors! But no. A quick check of our control panel shows we are still in R15.

Not a lot going on over the next ten screens...



... but then we find this.



This double line does form the barrier between R15 and S15. So here we are, fifteen screens east of Metallica. If we go one more screen east and check our control panel, the WHERE switch confirms we're in S15, and the Home1 control will give us a beacon back to Metallica. This confirms that the scale here is "one screen length = one mile":



Uncle Smoke told us that we could trade chips with the Mire Folk for clues regarding the whereabouts of the Most Amazing thing. The Hut 1 control gives us heading and distance to the nearest hut.





That's a longer roadtrip than I'd like.

In fact, this seems like a good time to point out how preposterously huge this game world is. Fifteen miles east takes us to the major meridian, but it's sixty-five miles west to the other one. Each minor map sector is 10x10 screens, and the major map sectors that show up on WHERE are 8x8 minor map sectors. As we saw on the map above, the Darksome Mire is 25x25 major map sectors. Multiply that out, and the world map is a square 2,000 screens/miles on a side.

... for a total of four million square miles. This is a game whose overworld is basically the size of Europe.

Maybe we'll have better luck flying. Unfortunately, the BURNER switch does nothing, because as the Fuelo control tells us...



... we have no fuel.

Wait. How did we get 15 miles down the Mire with no fuel?

: The B-liner car has a Solar Battery for driving.
: The B-Liner balloon needs a lot of fuel. Drill for it!

It's true, we didn't see any fuel for the B-Liner at the Galactic store, nor did we have the opportunity to chop down Popberry trees for fuel. However, the big rock we saw marks the location of an oil deposit, and the B-Liner's got robotic mining equipment on-board. Drive to a rock, press the space bar, and...



Looks good, and now our fuel meter is nice and full. Let's get out of here. Fire up the control panel, hit the burner switch, and wait. There's no wind for the first 2,000 feet, but soon enough...



... we get a whisper of a breeze taking us in the right direction. This'll take forever, though.

: The higher you fly the faster the wind blows.
: Take the B-liner up or down 'til you find a good wind.

I keep the burner going, and the wind speed continually increases and its direction spirals around clockwise. One complete turn later, and the wind looks much healthier:



: Storms are not worth fooling around with. Land.

I've never seen a storm in-game. Something sets off storms, though, and I think they way they work is that they blow you in random directions at incredible speeds, pretty much putting you everywhere but where you wanted to be.



Storm warnings are supposed to appear if you switch to this. It's only ever looked like this for me, though.



The altimeter shows us where we are, in case we want to aim for this height range directly in the future.

Honestly, I never check the altimeter. Wind directions are consistent enough that I just tweak the burner as needed to keep us in the right jet stream, and hit DROP if we get high enough that it's taking us the wrong way.

(Also shown: me bouncing back and forth between the R and S columns and the 14 and 15 sectors while I track down a decent wind)

Now, given the alleged speed the wind is blowing, it would still take us four hours or so to reach that hut. Fortunately, there is some serious time compression going on here, so within a minute of real time, HUT 1 is telling us that we're close enough to the target to drive the rest of the way. I vent the balloon with DROP and come down somewhere in sector R12. After landing, I snack on a few Popberries, and then go refuel. Getting to that cruising altitude ate about half our fuel reserves.



... that rock is alarmingly mobile, and it seems to take exception to us.



The B-Liner's armored nacelle is strong enough to resist its attacks, though. That said, the bludgeoning is enough to knock us out...



Being knocked out is basically sleeping, including the part where we hypnotically consult with Uncle Smoke.

: There are dangerous Mire Crabs out there. Look like rocks.
: The faster you go the more you will attract Mire Crabs.
: Once a Mire crab finds you it will send for many Mire Crabs.
: Some Mire Crabs will steal your fuel or put you to sleep.

Mire crabs are the primary hazard for driving, and are also the main reason we can't just set the drive mode on autopilot and go make a sandwich for 173 screens. They're infinitely aggressive, can move faster than the B-Liner can drive at maximum throttle, summon friends, and the only way to actually tell the difference between a Night Rock and a Mire crab is to drive past it at speed and see if it gets pissed off.

Getting caught by a Mire crab halts you for a while for it to finish animating the attack, boosts your "sleepiness" by a considerable amount, forces you to take the "sleep" action, and then removes half your fuel. The crabs can't actually hurt the B-Liner, but you aren't going anywhere without paying attention in this game.

For the last part of a trek, drive without rhythm, keep your speed low, and steer clear of things that look like Night Rocks. Once you find an actual rock, note its location and fuel up again immediately before takeoff.



Anyway, we've arrived at a Head Trader's hut, inconveniently located right at the screen edge so that when I try to park at it I shift over to the next screen the first few tries.



"Hut", says the game text, but this thing looks more like a minor ziggurat to me.

ManxomeBromide fucked around with this message at 09:19 on Jan 1, 2020

Nidoking
Jan 27, 2009

I fought the lava, and the lava won.


Grimey Drawer

The only thing I can think is
: A dragon is roughly the same size as an elephant.

I feel like I would have loved this game as a kid but not understood much of it.

Domus
May 7, 2007
Getting nerdier day by day

That’s surprisingly complicated. Were tutorials that hand-hold not really a thing yet?

TooMuchAbstraction
Oct 14, 2012

Hubris

Fun Shoe

Domus posted:

That’s surprisingly complicated. Were tutorials that hand-hold not really a thing yet?

They absolutely were not. In-game tutorials didn't start being common until maybe the PS1 era or thereabouts, around 15 years later. With games of this era, you were expected to read the manual instead.

SelenicMartian
Sep 14, 2013

Sometimes it's not the bomb that's retarded.



And hope the manual doesn't lie to you.

Rocket Baby Dolls
Mar 3, 2006

Normally I don't make aesthetic criticisms in other peoples' homes, but that rug looks like a beaver exploded. If meat is murder, then that rug is at least a severe beating.

I remember that the Infocom games had information that was only available in the manuals and nowhere to be found in the game, some of the games were almost impossible to complete without some key information contained within them.

I'm really enjoying this LP, I had never heard of this game before and it's been a very interesting experience so far.

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ManxomeBromide
Jan 29, 2009

old school


Domus posted:

That’s surprisingly complicated. Were tutorials that hand-hold not really a thing yet?

I skipped the latter half of the "demo" at the start of the LP because it served as a walkthrough of sorts for the first part of the game, but I'll revisit it once we've seen all the things it describes.

But yeah, I don't think it's a coincidence that this is a game where my (much too young) self got nowhere immediately at the point where the tutorials ended. My vague recollection is that I figured out how to fuel the B-Liner and take off, but not how to actually go places I intended to go, and that I could not reliably snag popberries in time. Once you leave Metallica, you are very much on your own.

I'll go into this in more detail later on in the LP, but one of the most incredibly audacious things the game does is present an argument, in its "to parents and educators" section, that this is an educational game because playing a complicated action-adventure game is inherently educational. It doesn't have the vocabulary to say it that directly—the concept of "action-adventure" won't have obvious exemplars for another several years—but that's very clearly the thrust of the argument.

A less charitable way to describe it is that it's a collection of minigames that happens to hang together into a coherent whole much better than Ultima 1 did.

TooMuchAbstraction posted:

With games of this era, you were expected to read the manual instead.

It's also worth noting that manuals were awesome in this era and didn't start becoming vestigial or nonexistent until the late 1990s.

Even if we leave aside "feelies"—little artifacts like the cloth maps for RPGs that came with the game to help set the mood because graphics and sound were not up to snuff—you'd often have lots of details, fancy illustrations, concept art, or other things to accompany the core experience. In Search of the Most Amazing Thing came with a novella. Even as late as 1997, the Fallout manual included dessert recipes in the back because that's a thing you do.

Now, another thing you also did was sell your game as a ziploc bag with a cassette tape and a single page mimeograph describing the controls, but that's the difference between budget titles and triple-A... and specialty consumer software stores didn't spring up overnight, anyway.

Come to think of it, this is sounding a lot like the evolution of pen-and-paper roleyplaying games in terms of "what comes with your core purchase".

SelenicMartian posted:

And hope the manual doesn't lie to you.

In this case, it does not! The manual contains no intentional falsehoods. It does, however, contain a number of very carefully phrased truths, some rather notable omissions, and a few statements that were rendered false by later developments years after publication.

I've been relying on data mining and reverse engineering to back up the manual and my experimentation.

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