Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Top 3 Best Games About Janitors... #2

In yesterday's post I talked a bit about the Infocom classic Planetfall, the 3rd best game of all time in one of the most underappreciated genres of gaming - the janitor game. For today's entry I'd like to mention the first "point and click" adventure game I ever played (I think) - the 1991 hit Space Quest IV - Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers.

In SQIV you play, not surprisingly given the title, as Roger Wilco, who is 50% bumbling janitor and 50% heroic adventurer. At the beginning of the game Roger is relaxing at the local space bar when he is accosted by the evil Sequel Police who deliver the message that your enemy Sludge Vohaul (apparently from previous SQ games that I never played) has some nefarious plans to take over the universe and he wants you good and dead first, but before the Sequel Police can administer the coup de grace you manage to break free. Then a couple of mystery guys open up a time rip that you jump through to escape. The time rip deposits you in the far-flung future of Space Quest XII (noted on the status bar at the top of the screen) and that's where you take control and begin your quest to figure out how to survive in this world and how to get back to Vohaul and defeat him before it's too late!

That's the gist of it anyway. If I recall, I found this game to be somewhat difficult and although I quite enjoyed it I don't remember actually finishing it. I think I got stuck somewhere and eventually just moved on to something else. Hey don't judge me!  Back in those days you couldn't just hop on the internet and Google up a walkthrough to get past a tough spot you know!  Sierra On-Line sold hint books, but I never bought any of those (I did buy an Invisiclues one time for Zork II to see what they were all about - but that's another story). So actually I think I will be buying this game myself and giving it a good honest try to play it through to completion for the first time.

If you've never played a point and click adventure game it is all driven by the mouse and drop-down menus. You move Roger around in the world and interact with various items and characters by simply pointing and clicking. Sierra went to great lengths to provide a huge amount of detail so you can examine and interact with almost anything and with multiple senses too - sight, smell, taste, touch - a different kind of open world game.

Here is a little vid of the gameplay from the beginning of the game (they stripped out the opening movie part). This is the updated version released in 1992 on CD which featured full speech - I played the old silent floppy version.

One of the reasons I liked the game so much is the same reason that I liked Hitchhiker - the humorous tone throughout the game. The game is always making jokes and although it can get a little tiresome from time to time, overall it is pretty amusing and a refreshing change from the mood of most games. But the thing I really remember is how gorgeous the graphics were at the time - especially on the cut scenes which were essentially like watching a cartoon. It took full advantage of the 256-color VGA cards that were the leading edge of video cards at the time. Also, I read that it was one of the first games to utilize motion capture technology.

Another unique feature I had never seen before - in the game when you go back in time and are playing within the world of Space Quest I, the graphics and sound revert to the more primitive style of that 1986 game. There is even a scene during this part where some monochrome alien baddies give Roger a hard time for his superior graphic stature - "Well lookee here - if it ain't mister look-at-me-I'm-in-VGA". (Apparently their response changed based on whatever type of video card was actually being used). I don't know if Sierra actually invented this gag, but Metal Gear Solid IV for the PS3 recycled it years later when Snake was dreaming and you got to play a little of the original PS1 Metal Gear Solid in the properly reduced resolution. So I'm thinking maybe Snake owes a slight tip of the hat to Roger for that.

I've also heard lately about the arcade minigames hidden in the new Call of Duty Black Ops, to which I've seen a few GTA fans respond with "ho-hum hidden arcade minigames - Rockstar already did that", to which older Dreamcast fans similarly respond "punks - you ever heard of Shenmue?" Well, almost a decade before that you could mosey on up to an arcade game in SQIV, drop in a quarter, and play a game of Ms. Astro Chicken. So SQIV (and actually SQIII before that, I discovered) get some props for that bit of "open-world" immersion that so many these days attribute to Rockstar.

I stumbled across this commercial for SQIV that apparently aired around Christmas in 1991.  The quality looks like it was filmed through a soapy fishbowl, but I've always enjoyed watching old game commercials and trailers so I'm stickin it in here in case someone else feels the same.

So I felt like was rambling a bit there - but the bottom line is that this a cool janitor game and considered somewhat of a classic in PC gaming circles, so if you haven't played it you might consider checking it out.

Where do you buy?  As I was writing this I checked out eBay and I see that someone is selling the original 3.5" floppy PC version complete with box, manual, and disk with a current bid of only $0.99 ($4 shipping). Note that if you do decide to purchase this item it is possible we might engage in a bidding war.You can also buy the collection of all the Space Quest games (1-6) - on eBay for $7.84 (shipping included) - click HERE for that one. And they also offer it (bundled with 5 and 6) at Good Old Games for $9.99.

Tomorrow - the stunning and controversial janitorial finale that everyone is sure to be talking about. Stay tuned!

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