Review: Corruption

This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July).

Corruption

I’ve never played a text adventure. Well, a brief bit of fiddling with Hitchhiker’s Guide, but that’s about it. Indeed my adventure gaming expertise mostly consists of lots of Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry 1, a bit of Technobabylon more recently, Day Of The Tentacle, etc. As you can see, I gravitate towards the funny, and the graphical. This will be a test of patience, but a large part of the point of this is to try things I’ve not done before, so here I go.

This one benefits least of all from screenshots, after all it’s just text. And while Captain Blood has a gameplay loop that can be represented in a fairly short write-up as seen, and Sentinel repeats the same gameplay loop for 10,000 islands, a text adventure is a story and in a way it’s hard to review it without playing the whole thing. I’m conscious that in describing my experience I’m basically taking some decent writing and replacing it with my own shittier writing. We’ll see how this goes as I’m not 100% sure of the best way to approach this write-up.

So I arrive at the start of the game, apparently at work, having just been promoted and finding myself disappointed at the quality of my new office. A surprising thing is that each new location must be loaded from disk. Given the text nature of the game means it likely uses very little RAM (admittedly less will be available owing to the baffling decision to start from GEM [it uses the mouse but doesn’t use the menus so why???] instead of autobooting – meaning a 512k ST probably has about 360k to work with – that still means you can get half a disk in memory, which should allow it to be loaded in 2 or maybe 3 parts.

Now the first thing I am going to do, like any sensible person, is try to type some rude stuff. Sadly the game does not oblige. I can’t ask Margaret for sex, nor can I fuck anyone, nor can I shit on the floor. All this is an immense disappointment. Having left my office and arrived at the apparently sturdy and unfriendly Margaret’s adjoining office I am unclear about exactly what I can do. I have a stack of trades to be completed this morning however so I should probably get that done.

I head out of the office, into the corridor and into the bathroom. Surely there must be opportunities for rudeness here, right? Before doing that however it occurs to me that I should probably check my clothes for any potential inventory items. Ah, a credit card and key. Excellent, they’ll be useful at some point I’m sure. Why items in my clothes aren’t already in my inventory I have no idea but I had a vague memory of something similar in Hitchhiker’s guide so I thought I’d check. So, back to rudeness. I try to piss in the sink, and thankfully it recognises the command, but sadly won’t allow me to do so, insisting that I must restrain myself. So be it. Onwards. I move towards the cubicle which apparently smells terrible, and it seems I’m allowed to piss in that. Excellent.

Time to leave the fun of the bathroom aside and head to the dealing room. Perhaps we can play midget bowling? On entering the room I’m told the serious fraud office want to talk to my boss. I should probably go let him know. There’s a surprising amount of freedom and the text parser is pretty solid. I can for instance upon realising my pocket has a credit card and key just say “take credit card and key”, instead of having to type get for each item. Asking people about things also seems fairly robust, so the company lawyer was able to tell me about the serious fraud office – too underfunded to tackle the big things apparently. Most people seem to know there’s something shady going on. I need to dig deeper, but first I have to figure out how the buggering hell to get to the boss to let him know about the serious fraud office. He’s on the floor below and there’s a lift, but I can’t seem to get to it. Ah, fire exit. That’s it. I find out as someone uses the fire exit. Interestingly, characters move around, from place to place. I expected it to be more static, but they’re not. It’s a surprisingly sophisticated game in that regard.

It doesn’t spare the cliches, with the boss’s secretary described as a dumb blonde, stupid and easy to take advantage of. I attempt some naughtiness but she says she’ll report me for sexual harassment. I didn’t realise that was a thing in 1988!

Figuring out exits seems a challenge. Some are hidden behind doors the game doesn’t tell you about, and you only get them listed among exits (type “exits”) when they’ve been opened. Thankfully the game has enough sense not to make you “open door” then “go north”, instead recognising that you probably want to open the door and use the exit if you say “go north”.

Continuing my sexual harassment quest I catch up with the boss and let him know about the serious fraud office before going in for the kiss. Apparently there’s nothing wrong with being gay, but my character isn’t. I try licking him and he gives me a funny look.

Time to go to the car park. I examined my key earlier and discovered that I own a BMW. I want to find out more about it. I get a screwdriver from the glove compartment. My attempt at driving the car is however thwarted by traffic and I drive back to my parking space, not something I have a choice in. So, I’m stuck here. And now I can’t get out of the fucking car. I can open the door but there are no exits, I can’t leave.. what do I have to do to get out of this fucking car? Finally my misery is ended as a copper comes and arrests me. At least I’m out of the fucking car. So what have I done and is this the end of the game? After a long description of the trial in which I play no interactive part, I am sentenced to two years in prison and my game ends with a score of 200.

All in all, a fun time and maybe I’ll do better next time. Next up ST/Amiga Format Issue 3.

Review: Sentinel

This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July).

Sentinel

Sentinel is a very strange game. To explain it as simply as I can, you are on a 3D island, and there is a sentinel which if it sees you will drain your energy until you die. Your goal is to get some height so you can drain the sentinel and defeat it (you need the height to see the sentinel’s square). You do this for 10,000 islands (though I doubt anyone bothered). You move the mouse to the edges of the screen to slowly rotate the view (the Atari ST is capable of smooth movement but that’s not something this game has gone for being so early in the ST’s life). If you see a tree you can click on it to absorb one unit of energy, or a rock for 2 or a ‘synthoid’ for 3. You can right click a synthoid to transfer to it, then click on your old synthoid to absorb its energy and that’s how you move. You have no other means of moving about the landscape. Rocks serve to give you elevation as you can jump on top of a pile of rocks without seeing the top surface, while trees serve to block the sentinel’s view of you and thus stop it draining your energy. To place items you point the mouse at the square and press T to create a tree, B for a boulder and R for a synthoid.

This video (not mine) shows you what it all looks like. I won’t do screenshots for this one as there’s not much to be gained from them.

So let’s talk about the first island. I start with a tree in front of me so I absorb it, and build some boulders to get some height (given I can’t move to surfaces higher up because I can’t see the ground) and place a synthoid atop. Moving to the synthoid I absorb my old self and look for the next place… and the sentinel kills me. This is going to take some figuring out. Another go, dead again. This game is fucking hard. I’ll be honest, I did have to have a look at a couple of videos to figure out some of it, though the manual was actually quite helpful in figuring out how to do things. What neither of those told me was how to beat the god damn sentinel. There is no way in hell anyone would release this game in the modern era!

I eventually got the sentinel on the first island, getting enough height to see his square and click on it, which felt strangely anti-climactic. What now? A quick look at the manual told me to go to his square – ok, done. Now what? Press the hyperspace key. Which sodding key is the hyperspace key? The manual doesn’t tell you. I’ll tell you. The hyperspace key is H. Having completed the level I get a code for the next level, so I can come back to it.

Ok so I lied about screenshots. Why level 6? No idea. In other annoying news, when you enter the level and code, you can’t fucking press delete if you cock up the typing. Ah 80s user interfaces.

After some real confusion where I couldn’t see anywhere to go I finally fucking twigged that I needed to build a boulder tower and climb it so I could transfer to a nearby ledge. Above you can see my boulder tower, with my old synthoid atop it.

That’s the prick I want to kill. What an absolute prick. He’s currently looking away from me so I’m safe. As soon as he turns my way I’m fucked. I need to get some height so I can absorb and kill him. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

Well this is a bold strategy cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.

It did not.

So, in what is rapidly turning into Hari Seldon Fails At ST games, I accept my defeat (I’ll be back later to beat the son of a bitch but I want to keep these short enough to be interesting and have half a chance of making some bloody progress on these). I’d never played Sentinel before and actually, despite being the strangest game, it’s weirdly absorbing and while it took a bit of work to get into, once I was there I enjoyed it – a game I have no nostalgia for as this is the first time I’ve ever played it. I suspect with a proper tutorial and maybe a bit more signposting of what the sentinel is doing you could make a decent game out of this.

Next up – Corruption.

Review: Captain Blood

This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July).

Captain Blood

I’ll start with Captain Blood as I have a little bit of prior experience with it, albeit on an Amiga. Wait, what? But I had an ST, that can’t be right. Well, as a teenager I thought it might be clever to upgrade my 520STFM to 1MB of RAM. Back then this involved soldering. You can guess the rest. This was towards the tail end of the system’s life and I had a bit of pocket money saved up and saw an Amiga going cheap in the local independent computer shop. Picked it up along with a stack of floppies that were being sold individually for £1 with scribbled labels.. wait they had games and stuff on them – what the fuck? Anyway, I digress, I had previously played it on the Amiga so it seemed the most comfortable place to start, though Captain Blood is far from a comfortable game.

I’ll begin with a bit of a background of what the game is, its story and what you’re expected to do, all that scene-setting stuff that helps the poor bastard reading this get a taste of the game. So the story is that the eponymous Captain Blood has programmed a game, and then got sucked into said game in an improbable and very 80s way, and to make matters worse he has 5 clones which he needs to locate in order not to die, spread all over a large galaxy (32768 planets apparently – and forget about memorizing them, they get randomised with each new game) with 14 alien races. To do this he sends a ship to the planet’s surface, navigates a 3d fractal wireframe landscape and eventually talks to an alien if one is present. To do so one must figure out the arcane language in which the aliens speak. Yep, the game has it’s own sodding language. To think that all this ambition fit onto two 720kb floppy disks to be run on a computer with a mere 16-bit processor running at 8MHz packing only 0.5MB of RAM is really quite something – a feat matched only by Damocles rather more detailed single solar system on a single disc or Elite 2’s galaxy.

On firing up the game the first thing that hits you is the music, by Jean Michel Jarre. Sure it’s very computer-gamey, but this is before Xenon 2 Megablast or Speedball 2 – it was quite a remarkable thing at that time. You eventually get to the game start and we even have a speech synthesizer announce something, though it’s not entirely clear what. So, my first job then is to send a ship (an Oorxx in the game’s terms) to land on the planet. Let’s see if I’ve still got the muscle memory for this. It turns out I haven’t – I manage to crash into the canyon when I eventually make it there. Thankfully there seems to be no consequence for doing so though, it merely stops me and I have to figure out how to get going again. I eventually figured out that the mouse buttons controlled speed and I was soon on the move. Eventually I reached my destination and the screen was slowly converted into a proper filled 3D image.

I deliberately captured a screen in the middle of the 10-second process so you can get a picture both of the original wireframe from its moving state and what will eventually materialise.

And as you can see, some alien prick decides he wants a chat. On the top we have the alien, with his planet as backdrop, below on the left what the alien has said (apparently something’s really fucking funny), to the right is whatever I’m going to say, and below is a set of symbols which comprise the game’s language. Oh and that arm – that’s my mouse pointer. When I’m done I click the lips hoping to god I’ve said something that makes some kind of fucking sense. Everything said is rendered by the speech synthesizer in its own unique gibberish. It’s not something I can imagine ever existing today. I am however being afflicted by my mouse pointer wandering all over the fucking shop. I don’t remember this. Off to google – I found https://argnet.fatal-design.com/bluddian.php which informs me that I need a cracked version. Ok let’s get that and try again. Ah that’s much better. Oh ffs I accidentally pressed the destroy planet button instead of the land on planet button.

The screenshot above demonstrates the careless disregard for health and safety from the ship’s designers, as a poor unfortunate yellow planet disintegrates before my eyes. Why the fuck would you put the button to destroy a planet next to the one to land on it? What kind of madman would allow such a thing? I better scarper out of there before my genocide is discovered (or is it really genocide when each planet always seems to have a single alien on it?).

Time to pick a new place to go. You might expect that you’d click somewhere and the lines would align.. nope. You have to drag each bar into position to point to a co-ordinate. 80s user interfaces weren’t always very good.

So off into hyperspace I go, with palette cycling psychadelic shenanigans, in search of new worlds to plunder and destroy. And it crashes. Third time lucky, let’s see if I can actually get somewhere. I’m learning here that I’m going to have to use the emulator snapshots very very regularly. I land, get to see the alien and it’s the same twat I encountered the first time when I had the shakey mouse pointer. Laugh it up shit-head – I might just destroy your planet for fun. Prick is bragging about being a bounty hunter, or perhaps a big bounty on his head. Maybe I should kill him. He doesn’t like me, but knows reproduction 14.. maybe he’s talking about the clone? Or maybe he’s accusing me of being a paedophile. It’s hard to tell. Ah reproduction 14 is on planet Migrax (his species) – ok so maybe he’s talking about clones. But there are only 5. What? A missile is going to kill me.. ooookay. So finally he’s stopped talking. I ask him to help me, he replies that he knows Sinox. Great, but who the fuck is Sinox? He wants to help me. An interesting turnaround but I won’t complain. I finally figure out that you can scroll to get more words. So I ask where reproduction 14 is. He says on this planet and gives the co-ordinate we’re already on. Oookay. Eventually he agrees to teleport to my ship. Not quite sure what that gets me but we’ll see. Let’s hyperspace somewhere and drop him off and see what happens.

And it’s another crash. My patience exhausted for now, I put the game down and conclude that perhaps I should try something a little less buggy. It’s definitely an interesting concept for a game but it’s a little unclear what you’re expected to do – the manual offers some guidance but not quite enough. That was definitely an adventure, and had it perhaps been a little less crash-prone I might have persevered longer. Still, I had fun, destroyed worlds, and met a weird alien. What’s not to like?

Manual is at https://www.bloodianchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Captain_Blood_1988_Mindscape.pdf for anyone who wants it.

Next up – Sentinel.

ST/Amiga Format Issue 2

Welcome to Issue 2 – Download

This issue came out in August 1988. It begins with brief previews including Pool Of Radiance, Maupiti Island (which I could have sworn came out MUCH later), Empire Strikes Back, Better Dead Than Alien and Starray. The latter came with my Atari ST and was… ok. Brief mentions for Driller and Dark Side (Freescape games – see also Castle Master and 3D Construction Kit), and mention of a sequel to Captain Blood (which I think became Commander Blood).

Big features on CD-ROM which was still some way away from being a thing in home computing. We were still in the land of floppy discs with their 720kb of space (though with a bit of judicious formatting you could push it to 800kb or even a little bit more).

This issue sees Screenplay given its proper name (it’s notable that in issue 1 the index lists it as screenplay but then the actual page says golden games – perhaps an old title they forgot to remove). In this issue we have the following games:

– Captain Blood (Weird space exploration alien language thing – Infrogrames £24.95 – 91% Format Gold)
– Corruption (Text adventure with still graphics – Magnetic Scrolls £24.95 – 91% Format Gold)
– Jinks (Amiga only so who gives a shit)
– Legend Of The Sword (RPG – Rainbird £24.95 – 88%)
– Sentinel (Fucking weird thing – Firebird £19.95 – 82%)
– Pandora (Arcade Adventure – Firebird £19.95 – 63%)
– Return To Genesis (Defender clone – Firebird £19.95 – 74%)
– Pinball Wizard (Pinball – Anco [yes the kick off people] £19.95 – 70%)

That’s more like it. Captain Blood I’ve played a little before and will have another crack at, though it is a long game and may necessitate longer between posts. Corruption I’d like to try as I have little experience of text adventures but have heard good things about the Magnetic Scrolls games, and finally Sentinel – a strange little game I’ve wanted to try out for years.

This is a very odd month with 2 VERY left-field games, which are going to really give me a challenge.

Captain Blood

Sentinel

Sadly there aren’t any good videos of a text adventure, you’ll be surprised to hear! I’m going to have a rest tonight but will likely get onto these over the weekend. Wish me luck!

Review: Corruption

This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July). Corruption I’ve never played a text adventure. Well, a brief bit of fiddling with Hitchhiker’s Guide, but that’s about it. Indeed my adventure gaming expertise mostly consists of lots of Monkey Island, Leisure…More

Review: Sentinel

This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July). Sentinel Sentinel is a very strange game. To explain it as simply as I can, you are on a 3D island, and there is a sentinel which if it sees you will drain…More

Review: Captain Blood

This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July). Captain Blood I’ll start with Captain Blood as I have a little bit of prior experience with it, albeit on an Amiga. Wait, what? But I had an ST, that can’t be right.…More