Saturday, April 9, 2011

Questprobe Featuring the Hulk

I came across an interview with adventure game godfather Scott Adams in an old copy of Power Play magazine which was focused on the Questprobe series of games - illustrated text adventure games where you played as a Marvel Comics superhero. More specifically the article was about the first Questprobe game featuring the Hulk since that was the only one out at the time. 

I played a lot of Scott Adams' adventure games on my old VIC-20 and loved them and I was heavily into comic books back in those days so I remember being pretty optimistic about this game back in 1984. I honestly can't remember if I had an original retail copy of it or just a backup (I admit it - I did that sort of thing sometimes), but I do remember being disappointed in it. Probably because by then I think I was already knee-deep in the more complex narratives and more sophisticated parser of the Infocom titles. So, although the simpler stories and 2-word parser games seemed pretty awesome in the VIC days they had lost some of their edge as the mid-80's approached. In fact I don't recall ever actually finishing it.  I think I may have gotten stuck somewhere and/or lost interest a little and just moved on to another game like one of the Zorks or something like that. So I decided to finally go back and finish the game to check it off the list.

In the game you are Bruce Banner - and the Hulk of course when he gets cheezed off.  You start the game off immediately in a jam - tied to a chair. No explanation or story or anything but obviously you need to get up so "bite lip" and bingo bango you turn into the hulk and break the ropes. You use that little mechanic a lot. Unlike the previous Scott Adams adventure games I had played, the Hulk was illustrated so in addition to the text description you could actually see what was going on. The graphics are certainly nothing to get excited about but were probably pretty good for 1984. No sound.

Notice how they put the trademark (Tm) symbol after the Incredible Hulk's name. That was on there every single time his name is mentioned and it annoyed the heck out of me.  They did the same with Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Ultron, whose surprise appearances in the game were spoiled at the very beginning with their names listed to show that they were also Trademarked. Was that really necessary? I'm assuming that is something that Marvel insisted on.  Anyway, like a lot of the really old adventure games the story was basically a flimsy excuse for you to recover all the "treasures" - in this case 16 gems and the all-important Bio-Gem. In fact the story didn't even really tell you anything about the gems - you just started coming across them so you KNEW you had to pick them up and a sign in one room politely informed you to Leave the Gems Here. Useful bit of info.

In the game you meet the "Chief Examiner" (remember how you used to have to "examine" everything back in the day on text adventures?) who is apparently behind the situation you are in and in fact you see him at his desk working on the next Scott Adams adventure game, so I assumed at the time that it was supposed to be Scott Adams. The game also lets you refer to him as "Scott" and the article in Power Play further confirmed my assumption.

In conjunction with the game, Marvel Comics even released an actual comic with a more in-depth account of the story. At least that is what I've heard - I never ready any of the Questprobe comics. Maybe I'll track down a cbr/cbz of it and check it out.

They planned to release a game and comic every 3-5 months for a total of about 12-13 games, but they only got around to releasing 3 of them - #1 with the Hulk, #2 with Spiderman, and #3 with the Human Torch and the Thing. Scott was working on the fourth title featuring the X-Men when his company Adventure International declared bankruptcy in 1985.

So how did I like the game playing it 27 years after it was produced?  Meh - looks like I had it right the first time - disappointed. Oh well, what did I expect? I was disappointed back in the 80's and the feeling remained. I did KIND of enjoy going back and playing it from a nostalgic standpoint but the game just didn't hold up very well at all. Plus, there were a couple of dead-ends you could easily fall into which would basically make it so that you couldn't complete the game by collecting ALL the treasures which was annoying.

Hard to rate, but I'm thinking maybe 4.5 pairs of torn purple pants out of 10. Overall, it just seemed like a much more diluted effort than I had seen before from Mr. Adams - of course I had played the previous games when I was a pre-teen or early teen and computer gaming was in its infancy or at least early adolescence so my historical perspective is probably a bit skewed by my age and the state of the industry at the time.

So I wouldn't exactly recommend it to someone in this day and age. If you wanted to try out some of the pioneering Scott Adams titles to see what the early days were like I would recommend trying some of the older ones like Adventureland, The Count, or Voodoo Castle instead. But if you DID want to check out the Hulk you have plenty of platforms to choose from - it was released on Commodore 64, DOS, ZX Spectrum, Atari 800, and Apple II computers. And of course there is always emulation and so-called abandonware if you like that sort of thing. Plus it is quite short so it wouldn't take you very long to experience. And, unlike the pre-internet days of my first experience there is actually a walkthrough for the game that you can use if you do get stuck - HERE. So feel free to Bite Lip.

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gnome said...

Well, the game might still be disappointing, but this was an excellent read indeed!

MadPlanet said...

Glad you enjoyed it Gnome. I really wanted to like the game but - oh well - sometimes an old forgotten game just seems rightly old and forgotten I suppose.

Paradroyd said...

I enjoyed the article too. It made me think of the first adventure game I ever played, which was incidentally another Scott Adams adventure simply entitled "Pirate Adventure" on my TI99. I used to like the Ohare's text adventures on the C64 too. For all I know though, they may have originated on another system. Those were simply basic source. Back in the day, I actually took a couple of the C64 O'Hares listings and painstakingly converted them line-by-line to Vax Basic and had them running on VMS through a VT102 terminal on a Vax 8550.

I think I had more fun converting them and seeing them compiled and running on a Vax than I did playing them.

Anyway, like you say, sometimes with old games, it's more the way they made you feel when you first played them than it is the greatness of the game itself that makes it a classic. I find that to be the case with a lot of older stuff I revisit. Some of it (a lot of Amiga stuff comes to mind) actually holds up pretty well to a modern, objective eye, but a lot of it doesn't even come close.

MadPlanet said...

Happy you enjoyed it Paradroyd.
I think I might also have Pirate Adventure for my VIC-20. The first adventure game I ever played was Adventureland which unbeknownst to me at the time was Adams' first and reportedly the first COMMERCIAL adventure game made for personal computers. I'm almost afraid to go back and play it for fear of sullying my memories of its awesomeness.

Cool stuff on your VAX. I remember some of Adams' games - also in basic for the early stuff - being listed in Compute! magazine and entering it on my C64 to get a working game and it was pretty darn cool. I tried making my own a few times too but never completed them - a recurring them for my work.

The risk of retrogaming - sometimes old games just aren't that darn fun anymore. But that makes it all the more fun when you stumble across one that you really like 20-30 years after it first came out.

I never had an Amiga back in the day, and still don't, but so far I've been impressed with the enduring quality of the games I've played emulated on WINUAE. I've always really enjoyed the graphical style of the Amiga.