ZX Computing

Scott Adams Scoops

Publisher: U. S. Gold
Machine: Spectrum 48K/128K/+2/+3

Published in ZX Computing #38

Scott Adams Scoops

Funnily enough, only one of the games on this compilation is written solely by Scott Adams. One is written with a chap called Phillip Case, another is co-written with his wife Alexis, while the fourth is written entirely by her. Still, "Scott-And-Alexis-Adams-With-Phillip-Case Scoops" is a somewhat less engaging title, I guess. The important thing is, all the games here are in that distinctive Scott Adams style we're come to know and hate.

Some of you may never have played a Scott Adams game, in which case consider yourself lucky. Way back in the mists of computing time (i.e. during the late seventies) he was one of the first people to release an adventure for a home computer (a TRS-80, or something similar). For this computer's extremely limited capabilities, what he produced was remarkably good, so it sold well. Time moved on, better computers with greater memory arrived, the market changed - but Adams did not. He kept on churning out games which fitted into 8K, converting them for the new computers as they arrived. His name being a venerable one, people bought his adventures, even though he was a dinosaur who should have evolved or become extinct. Critics gave him good reviews out of respect for what he once was, though, if written by anyone else the games would have been ignored. Their only redeeming factor was the quality of his puzzles - fiendish and ingenious. Unfortunately, the parser was always very limited, the text brief to the point of ridicule, the responses few and sloppy.

He would probably never have succeeded in the Spectrum market, except that his first games released on the Speccy were enticing licensed names - The Hulk and Spiderman - and that they were accompanied by some stunning graphics, at the time the best the Spectrum had witnessed.

But this US Gold compilation does not consist of those more attractive Adams productions. It contains four text only adventures, previously unreleased on the Spectrum (as far as I know). Three of these were originally written over five years ago; the fourth is based on a film no-one in this country has heard of! Hardly a tantalizing package, is it?

The games are Pirte Adventure, a beginner's game with self explanatory theme, Voodoo Castle, a supernatural quest to save a Count's life; Strange Odyssey, a space adventure which is now unplayably cliched, though it would have been quite good when written; and Buckaroo Banzai. The last really is an oddity. The film is a very weird, apparently incomprehensible science fiction fantasy which completely flopped on its initial American release (around two or three years ago) and have never been seen here, though it has since developed a cult following in the States. Even stranger is the game, which is in the typical curt Adams' style, and is completely meaningless and pointless if you haven't seen the film. Which, of course, you cannot have done. I managed to find out a little about Buckaroo Banzai from a cinema magazine I read, but US Gold's utterly worthless instructions tell you just this: "Only by unravelling the many puzzles set by Scott Adams do you stand any chance of completing this futuristic adventure." (What John Cleese would call a bleedingly obvious statement. How else do you complete an adventure? By spreading a cheese sandwich over the keyboard?) "Set in the world of pop groups and science fiction." Very informative.

On the Spectrum, Scott Adams without graphics is like a radio version of a Charlie Chaplin silent film. The text is no compensation. Here is an example of Voodoo Castle: "I am in a room in the castle. Visible items: A big kettle."

The vocabulary does not even include WEAR or I (though the imbecilically inept instructions claim that it does).

Having read all this, you may be wondering why the game is not getting the lowest possible ZX rating (a 'Groan'). Well, considering there are four games on a £10 tape, they work out as budget titles - £2.50 each. As such, they are not entirely bad. The puzzles are fun to crack, and the lack of distracting features (like text, graphics, a decent parser or a noticeable number of locations) tends to concentrate the mind. So for some good problem-solving - I realise there are some who like Scott Adams style of games even if I don't understand why! - this might be worth buying. But anyone else - steer clear. This is adventuring at its worst.