Monday, August 31, 2020

Game 40: Dr Brain: Thinking Games - IQ Adventure

Name:Dr Brain: Thinking Games - IQ Adventure
Publisher:Knowledge Adventure
Developer:Knowledge Adventure
Genre:Action Adventure/Top-Down
Time: 10 hours
Cutscenes are in a slightly lower resolution than the game. I suspect CD speeds are the reason for this.
Nostalgia for Dr. Brain is a funny thing. The series started in 1991 as a series of first-person puzzle games, masquerading as adventure games. Directed by Corey and Lori Ann Cole, of Quest for Glory fame. These, as far as anyone on the internet is concerned, are all that exist of the good doctor. That's not the end of the story. Lost Mind and Time Warp. These were made by a different team for Sierra. In these, Dr. Brain is a wise-cracker and the game is more obvious in its puzzle nature. Time Warp is the first game I knew the doctor by.
Enter Knowledge Adventure, children's shovelware extraordinares. You might remember them from that Jurassic Park cinematic platformer, a phrase rarely said, but true. Knowledge Adventure acquired the license...somehow...for some reason, and instead of continuing the legacy of our old, beloved Dr. Brain, he changed. Dr. Brain made two clones of himself, one good, named Pro, and one bad, named Conn. This deep story is explained in Puzzle Madness, which is a bad clone of the 1998 Scotland Yard game with mini-games thrown in. Those are a ton of sentences that were never before used in the English language. Which brings us to IQ Adventure.
You don't notice it when you're playing, but check out that group of vines on the left.
IQ Adventure continues the story of Pro, now claiming his original's name...I guess Dr. Brain figured out how to ignore that whole aging process* thing. I play as...well, myself, but the chosen avatar for the player is one ugly fella. I'm Pro's guinea pig, and I'm going on an interdimensional journey. As I am sent, the machine breaks apart, and I separate from the machine after entry, and several pieces break off miles apart.
If you can figure out the pattern here, you're smarter than me.
But before we hear what happens, I'd like to bring up how much of a pain it is getting this to run. I'm running this in Linux, ergo, I'm using WINE. Because this is 1998, I can't just use Windows 3.1 in DOSBox to get this bad boy running. Every time I enter the in-game menu, exiting it crashes. In fact, its a miracle I'm running this game at all, I remember the last time I tried to run this it didn't. Which is why I'm doing this now instead of later.
Talking is keyword based, and mighty simple.
The game takes place in an alien world. You wander around, hoping not to die. This is harder than it sounds. As weapons are in limited supply, there are often way more enemies than weapons. Any combat is usually quickly getting rid of an enemy or bravely running away. Its only in the early levels that you truly get to clear out a group of enemies. Most of the time, its about prioritizing what resources to use where. I guess its just like a survival horror game in that regard. But it can be said that that's all adventure games with action elements.
Picking up fish, for puzzle 8/9, not helped by the pieces moving all the time.
The adventure aspects are mostly limited to putting keys in doors and 9 reoccurring puzzles:
1)Match 2 out of 6 dolls perfectly. Repeat with the remaining dolls.
2)Get all the switches in the right direction.
3)Find the right path through a series of flowers/things.
4)Put together a pipe machine.
5)Match all the colors up in a series of 3x3 rotating squares.
6)Same as 5, except you can't rotate them and you have to put in the squares.
7)Same as 5, except you match any characteristic a square has.
8)Put a series of blocks/fish above water/void.
9)Same as 8, except its a grid.
Spiders are strictly linked to their webs, out of the web by a few squares, out of reach.
Not while they might be fun puzzles, they're not exactly educational. 1 and 2 seem useful for short-term memory, I guess. But as 3 gets harder it seems impossible to recognize what the right path is. Its like there's no real pattern.
Also, I haven't mentioned it, but 1 and 6 felt difficult to me. Now, I was playing on hard, but as someone older than the game's age-range, that falls flat. Am I stupid? Even when I figured out the trick for 6 it still took a while to beat. The difficulty doesn't seem to have made it more difficult to figure out, just more tedious. Its funny.
The Mutans, as the game call them, can't walk onto the grass. In this level, you get grass seeds.
But I would be remiss to not mention the player's constant companion. Pro takes the sarcasm from the latter days of the original. He basically tells the player about anything going on**. Its amazing that the good doctor can see such things yet cannot manage to send me back without the machine. I would think a constant communication stream would be harder than transportation, but then, I've seen too much Stargate SG-1. I'd complain that most of his observations are too obvious, but this is a children's game.
There aren't any NPCs here, probably because they're spider chow
NPCs do whatever they want if they're not hostile, which is annoying if they park their tushy in a chokepoint. They come as either plant people or molemen. For the first part of the game, they usually tell you interesting things, but after a while they're just window dressing. At one point, a moleman follows you around and beats up some robots, the main antagonist of the game and the one who carted off the machine. All the enemies honestly feel a bit intense for a children's game. Giant spiders, mutant plant people, robots. The game's ugly artstyle gives them all a certain sinisterness. That, combined with the aforementioned resource scarceness make the game feel a bit more spooky than other children's games I played.
Those trees are hostile, you have to be careful here. At least different kinds of enemies attack each other.
An interesting gimmick is that the levels rotate each time you play. This is in addition to changing the puzzles each time you play. Honestly, the gimmick is not great. Sometimes this makes things more difficult to see. Its not impossible, you can still mouse over things you can interact with and know you can interact, just annoying. Even as a child I wasn't too enamored by this, seeing then as confusing. Development time could have been better spent making a better level or puzzles that aren't tedious as all hell.
The things on the right of the inventory are armor, and that's something desperately needed on this level.
The levels take the player through a series of possibly radiation-filled jungles, big cave networks and robot fortresses. They do a good job of increasing in intensity and throwing interesting puzzles at you...when they're not just throwing the same 9 puzzles out. It gets to the point that in the final level, the game throws out most of the 9, mixed between other, more interesting puzzles. A tenth of the game's length was in that level alone. All for an ending that barely feels like an ending. The player returns home, the robots follow you back. Nothing comes of this, the final game in the series is about something else entirely.
No escape.
As every item is used the same way, only the end result really matter. Everything is really useful, including ones that work against only one enemy or special effects attacks. 3/10

There's a curiously well thought-out selection. While there's not much interesting going on in a single section, the three sections combined have enough interesting monsters to put it in a pretty good place. 4/10

They exist. They only get in the way. The dialog system is nice though. 1/10

I feel mixed. Up until the about the final two levels, there was some interesting stuff going on. The rotating level gimmick is just that, a gimmick. 3/10

Player Agency:
Its mouse-only, which is not necessarily a good thing. Sure, its simple for the kiddies, but even as a child I had trouble clicking on the right area. If you're running away in a panic the only recourse is to blindly click. If you click on an area that can't be accessed by the pathfinding, you stop. At least the enemies have the same pathfinding. 2/10

There's just the bare minimum of effort for an adventure game. Anything that isn't useful is completely unusable. 1/10

I have to say it does a good job of feeling like an alien world. 5/10

Its functional, but really ugly. Sometimes things get in the way, you'd think testing of the whole perspective flip thing would fix that. 3/10

Its a simple find the items plot. Doesn't get in the way, doesn't do anything. The cutscenes at the beginning and end serve their purpose, nothing more. 1/10

Sound is fine, nothing cuts out, everything sounds suitable for what its supposed to sound like. Most of the music tracks are around a minute in length and I think there are only around 5 of them. But I will say they're not annoying, just very moody. Dr. Brain is voiced, the other characters are not, and I have nothing to say about that beyond the functionality of his voice. 3/10

Before I go to the final score, let's put in a few comparisons. The last Knowledge Adventure game, Dino Defender, had a 20. Previous games, roughly with the same kinds of aspects, namely puzzles and adventure games; Inca 30, Bram Stoker's Dracula 37, Alone in the Dark 53. Only, all of those games had high-scoring categories, in, atmosphere music and graphics. This is only high-scoring in atmosphere, and not to the degree to make up for much.

Its 27. That puts it well above the current curve, but that's not exactly a recommendation. Its one point below Midwinter and I consider that game's strength to be skiing. I'd say that a 30 is a good recommendation point and this isn't that. Its only of interest if you played it as a child or you want to scare your own child. Mobygames has one contemporary review, unfavorable, 2 out of 5 stars. Curiously, the reviewer, an elementary school teacher, plays on easy, complains that the game is too easy. She also doesn't seem to know what level she's on. The rest of her criticisms are directed towards not being able to navigate, which, admittedly, I think is a reviewer problem rather than a game problem for the most part*** and not being educational. That criticism will not be criticized. She also seems to be naive, as someone apparently told her that Knowledge Adventure was just Sierra's current incarnation. She mentions King's Quest too, but doesn't seem to know that Dr. Brain and King's Quest were made by the same company. I have to wonder how good her teaching skills are...
Next time on stuff that isn't really a shooter, Dungeon Master.

*Clones are as old as the material they're cloned from. Since Dr. Brain is an old man, roughly 70-80 years old, his clone shouldn't have very long to live. Come to think of it, why did the original die?
**I found out...after beating the game, that the help button on the main GUI tells you about the inventory items. That actually would have helped a little bit with the weird items.
***Generally speaking, I feel such criticisms, unfairly leveled, are usually a sign the critic can't really navigate that well in general. See, the endless debates about why Resident Evil sucks and they're just not incompetent at video games.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Blake Stone: Weapons Development and Testing

The level's title just makes me wish this was a Doom-clone, because then at least I'd get a sweet new weapon. Not that I need a new weapon, its just always nice. Right out the gate there are guards. This room is interesting, there are two potted plants blocking access to a couple of doors, one that seems to have a corpse in it. Oh, well. And my ammo problems from the last level is solved by a well-placed secret. Something tells me I better hold on to my health.
Then the level gets...bad. Not bad in the sense that it isn't fun, but bad in the way its laid out. I go through a section of the level, some guards, scientists, turrets, exploding barrels. I'm being cautious so I don't end up killing an informant. But then I come across a non-moving informant. Now, the exploding barrels/drones have a short range, shorter, I think, than the PDU. And this informant is right up against a drone. My beautiful 100% completion rate, gone. Maybe I'm mistaken, maybe I can work around this.
It is quite a terrifying experience trying to clear out this level. Too many scientists are informants and there are just too many scientists. Even if one wasn't standing against a tank I need to destroy to get 100%, they'd still be easy to take out. I guess I'm going to have to stand the loss of points. I haven't looked at the code for Blake Stone, but I would think the developers would want to avoid things like this? No matter, after clearing out the area, its clear there's no changing this.
On the northwestern corner there's a swarm of enemies hidden behind pillars, which just compounds this level's problems. Because there's also some turrets and friendlies. Great. After narrowly saving another informant's life, the pathway forward is blowing up a wall of exploding barrels and then entering the room behind it. Great. Well, I could bypass this by going through a one-way door, but I'd still have to destroy it on the way out. This gives me a keycard, which in turn leads south.
First, a secret...cafeteria. Which leads to a hallway full of blood. Which leads to a room full of scientist corpses and sentinels, plus a PDU. I feel like I'm trying to be told something, but I don't understand what it is. I guess the northern area behind the barrier is unreachable. Joy.
Moving south, there's a room bereft of scientists, radiation. Just me, some gold and a few exploding drones. The generosity continues, with a room full of enemies, including nothing but hostile scientists. Curiously, there's an electrical barrier there, the only way to turn it off is a switch behind a door. This gives me the exit key.
More straightforwardness. Why did all the enemy scientists have to be here? Then, another disaster strikes. While trying to push walls inside a secret I push something 1 block in. After an amount of time I wish I didn't have to spend, I return to where I left off, but don't screw around in there. Clearly I fucked something up. The continuing layout of the level is interesting, cafeteria, then inside cafeteria, what appears to be a radiation shower, with a corpse.
And that's the level, minus half the secrets. I did figure out how that secret worked, there was just a guard in the way. A dirty trick I'm not in the mood for at this point. With that...well, I haven't found everything, but at this point there's not much to be worried about. I'm missing two things of enemies, one being the one the scientist is standing next to, the other...who knows and cares at this point? I want to make it clear if I was playing this for fun I would have given up at around this point. I see no advantage in watching the game screw me over for no reason. The secret level is on this floor, so that's going to be fun.
Ah, what a track. Like something from Skyroads. Skyroads never put friendlies in front of explosives...probably because neither of those things existed in that game. Skyroads would never screw me without a way out. Skyroads also never gave me the fuzzy feeling of blowing up everything, but that's another thing I'll ignore. There's a truckload of ammo here and I'm sure a truckload of enemies.
More or less the same configuration as the last secret, big arena, tons of enemies. Less items on the ground though. The only thing are a select few health items. After that, just hordes of pod aliens and guards. Probably why this level is called Pod Alien Storage and Transport. There are so many I'm forced to fight them with the self-charging weapon. Good thing there's enough room to dodge.
So after clearing out the main area, just barely, clinging onto life, strapped for ammo, things begin to look up a little. There's a little ammo with a key, and a secret opens up to rooms full of ammo. Sure, it happened after a few terrifying encounters with some werewolves and a member of the Star Troopers, but I'm back...with 1% health. Now, what's on the way back?
Gold I'm nearly dead. I'm sure I'll run out of ammo the second I step on the next floor. I have to sacrifice my precious 100% mission rating because someone forgot to put the fragile informants not next to an exploding device. Fortunately, exploration solves my first problem. No matter what, I have to sacrifice something. Well, I'm not getting informant points without the other two, so goodbye friend. Funny thing, it's actually worse for my mission rating but better for my score.

This Session: 2 hours

Total Time: 18 hours

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Blake Stone: Cargo Storage and Processing

Oh...good, the menu music. That's the sign that someone hasn't done enough music. Which is fitting, since as a level this is a sign that someone ran out of ideas. A giant crate room. That's it. That's a third of the level real estate. Its not hard, its just a few guards wandering around. Some scientists too, thankfully mostly non-informants. This level is just already open. I'm sure I'll find the red key somewhere out in the open.
There's a new enemy here, wandering barrels of radioactive goo. I'm sure they have a name, but it doesn't matter. You shoot them, they drop radioactive puddles. Back to the regularly scheduled 75% of the level. There's a switch, but its one of those fun things that activate something else. So there's a different barrier activated. That's about it for the interior of this level. No, seriously, 75% of the level is taken up this monstrosity of a cargo storage.
In a side area I can access, I come across more hostile scientists and guards. Its a tense battle, if I didn't eat a steak I found in the middle of the cargo storage earlier, I would have been toast. The level is not generous with ammo. At least this room is a cafeteria, one not nearly depleted of health items. I continue, through what could be described as various hallways. One of which has a weird series of secret rooms, including a switch I've already turned off. Curious.
Finally, a friendly scientist. I'll ignore that he's with several hostile ones and he's, yet another informant, telling me things I already know. More weird science-y rooms, and frequent appearances of enemies right in front of the door.
So that's where the switch activated. And funny, its the exit card. I guess I was wrong. Another cafeteria, funny thing, but whatever. More guards, I swear these guys are getting smarter. They're trying to run away, and some of them seem to be waiting behind corners. After a couple of electrical barriers, containing alien guards, there's a yellow key area. Which is funny, since the area after that already leads to one-way door.
With that, I've more or less cleared out the level, there's another guard, and then a secret with some money in it. But those are not very hard to find. No, what's screwed me is that I'm nearly dead. I've got nearly full ammo though, which is a nice thing. So, after a brief journey through the earlier levels for a scrap of health, I enter the next level.
Correction and Detention? What, another prison and purge area? The level opens up with three doors and a pair of guards. At this point it gets tricky, because I don't have a lot of health, and most of the doors lead to areas with turrets, causing me to switch up my attacks.
I take the western door, hallway, the aforementioned turret hiding behind a pair of guards. The rooms it lead to are what I assume are the correction part of the floor. There's a lot of dead bodies here, even some guards and aliens. Naturally, there are no secrets inside this area. Plenty of ammo, but that only prevents me from having a different problem. Blood on the walls is getting to be a very uninteresting bit of color.
North, guards, and a blessed medikit. Not even a single turret. How nice it is to not get horribly killed. There's also this statue. No idea what its supposed to be. The next room is full of scientists, some informants. Helpfully, they tell me that Goldfire is killing all the informants. How useful it is to get this information I haven't already known by now.
Once again my journey turns into a clusterbomb. Guards wandering through hallways, through doors. That means as soon as I kill one group in one room, another group awakens because the door was open, which repeats itself a few times. The only health room is a well-guarded cafeteria, by the point I manage to break in, I'm down to uncomfortable levels of ammo. I think Jim and Mike planned this.
The eastern second of the floor starts simple enough, a few guards. It quickly turns...interesting. A teleporter, not to the secret floor, but to a different part of the level. I don't understand it myself, I'm not the one building a secret asteroid base though. It seems pointless anyway, the only reason you can't walk to the other section is because there's a pillar in the way. I guess this is the correction part, as there's a big computer room with informants in it. I wouldn't put Goldfire above brainwashing.

Back on track, the northern area has not a lot of treasure, but quite a few guards and aliens. Its just one group after another, until I make it to another group of cells. Some filled, some empty, all with corpses inside. That's the level, everything is done. This session felt like a whole lot of nothing. I'm low on ammo, which will make the next level fun. Curiously, an informant tells me about some genetic guards. I have no idea what the hell that is, probably a reference to the aliens I've already killed or perhaps a subtle hook for the next game.

This Session: 1 hour

Total Time: 16 hours

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Flames of Freedom: Blub, Blub, Blub

Its been a while. The siren song of Blake Stone has been more appealing than the rather more unrelenting nature of Flames of Freedom. The less said about Galactic Empire the better. Blake Stone is actually the tenth game since then, a good sign for my continued progress. Not to mention I haven't truly made any progress in 3 months. Right, enough whining about that.
I left off in a submarine, in the midst of fighting some zeppelins and a boat. Well, I say that, but its not much of a fight when you can't hit inside the water. By the same token, I can't hit them, so the me and my enemies are stuck in a stalemate. So I steal a zeppelin, from a boat. Figure it out yourself. I didn't realize how much of a joy it was to fly one. I make short work of the nearby squadron. There's another squadron of boats nearby, I might as well solve two problems at once.
As I fight the boats it very quickly becomes apparent that there's another problem, the blimp can't hit anything on the ground. Which leads me me hijacking a boat. A minute or two of combat later, and a boat change, and the unit is destroyed. That's lame...Of course, there's nothing else here, at least on the surface. It occurs to me to actually pay attention to the stated locations of the objectives. That puts the base, and probably the radar station, on the little crescent on the northern part of the island.. That leaves the enemy, if I were expecting a realistic placement of the "Famous Flying Subs" I would put it near there, but I'm prepared to be disappointed.
I return to the sub I left behind. This is a bit tricky as somehow a small group of hovercraft are on the attack and the sub sunk to the bottom. Interesting situation, but whatever. Soon enough I'm slowly autorouting my way across the island. Fun fact, if you enter the map screen, your autoroute is removed. Hope that wasn't vitally important or anything.
Outlook Island is a little chunk of rock off the coast of the north eastern point of the island. I assume, it could very well be the whole part of the island. Its guarded by submarines and speedboats, which works to my advantage, I wanted another one anyway. After eliminating the commander of the submarines, who looks quite comical, I began to look for the radar station, since it should be nearer to me than the base.

The radar station proves to be a bit tricky to get to. Its on the ground, which means taking out the speedboats, and that means no sub. Fortunately, its no problem sneaking onto one from the water. Speedboats are fast, and on the water that's not necessarily a good thing, but I manage to roll with it enough to take out a few speedboats. I try to take out the radar, ending up beaching my craft. No matter, I have grenades. Now, the base. Oh, and as I get back on a speedboat, you'd never guess who I manage to take out. The commander of the speedboat squadron.
My crossing to the base is rather nightmarish. There's a landbridge, for the monorail there. Which means there's not enough water to cross my sub through. On the other side, I am besieged by minisubs, which are too quick to control and are questionable in their homing capabilities. Then I find out there's something called a crawler, crawls on the sea, I missed it in the manual. The minisub, when engaged with combat with a regular sub, misses more often than not.
But after a loss of the minisub and a lucky acquisition of a regular one, the underwater base is destroyed. Now, where are the famous flying subs? Well, I asked that question too soon.
Quickly the flying subs attack, and boy, are they a pain to fight. My only ability to retaliate against them is in another vehicle, they're too fast when I'm just swimming. Even so, I am forced to hit them from far away, otherwise they'll take out my sub in one hit, and with enough injuries I have no choice but to bypass it in a scummy way. See, whenever you activate a menu, the enemies disappear, so I just rested, underwater, for a few hours until most of my injuries were gone.
And for what? Its not even the right flying submarine squadron. I go to the north, clearing out the seafloor as I go, nothing. I go to the I transition between areas, something interesting happens. Interesting.
My sub is destroyed, beached. Its a quarter mile into the shore. Several enemy boats are trapped inside. I have no idea what screwed things up, but no matter. I quickly get back in the water and find myself a boat. The sea doesn't have him. A lot of boats, but no flying subs. Well, they're flying subs, they have to be somewhere, might as well be somewhere on land.
Upon returning to land, I quickly end up in the sights of a tank brigade. They seem to have homing capabilities, and I don't. But I manage to take out the commander and all is well. Comandeering every other vehicle sure helps. Now, the only question is, where are those damn flying subs?

This Session: 2 hours

Total Time: 11 hours

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Blake Stone: Personnel Training and Briefing

Another new music track. Not bad, a little minimalistic. And what is with that title? Shouldn't this have been on Earth? No matter. A simple hallway outside the elevator. But part of the wall are barriers, untoggleable ones. This is clever...if this wasn't supposedly a training level. Visible behind the barriers are the red key and a PDU. The player finds the PDU with a secret, I assume, and the one-way doors take the player through the red card area.
The first inner area dissuades my notion. The whole training bit honestly seems find, I'm sure the one-way doors are some weird off bit. The side rooms here are big, open and full of guards. I'm sure Goldfire will pop up somewhere around here.
Oh, good, the entire level is just opened up. Hang on, I think I can enter the PDU area from here. It has a few guards, nothing of trouble. Now I have the ultimate weapon. Surprisingly the big hallway doesn't turn out to be a clusterbomb, most of the guards are on silent. So I go back and check some of the areas for secrets.
I find one, a series of rooms with doors. The usual mixture of human guards and riflemen, or Star Sentinels, as I forget to mention. One nearly gets me, but fortunately there was a vending machine that's full of stock for once. Which is very nice. It breaks into a hallway.
The hallway contains a series of rooms, in each, a single guard, either a sentinel or a trooper. One of them seems to be a hostage situation, containing two scientists, informants this time. This is honestly very curious because this is the first time a "real" secret has popped up like this and its basically nothing. The two scientists are the only informants here, so now I don't need to worry about holding back.
The second I advance from where I was at the big hallway, a swarm of guards and sentinels descend upon me like locusts. It becomes a weird groove thing. I advance, kill a bunch, nothing for a while, then boom. It gets even weirder at the end, where there's another scientist, an informant. What. I killed one accidentally and was at 50%. Both were informants. Don't tell me I killed them both and now there's another one? Well, anyway, at this point I can finish the level, the end of the corridor leads back to the exit. So let's see what I missed.
In the center, there's a room that has three doors exiting it. Well, it seems like one. Its two, one ammo room and one biohazard room. There's nothing of any value beyond that. Anyway...
To the west, a hallway that's a cross between an ambush area and a biohazard storage. I don't think any amount of enhancement is going to improve that area. Next door is, after the trademark twisted corridor, a pod room. I find a secret, and would you guess its another big hallway with rooms inside? Its mostly just health items, the guards inside are weaker.
Continuing to work my way east, another open room, a treasury with a mutant, then another biohazard room, sentinel. Sure are a lot of those. Another treasury, two werewolves and an informant. Thanks friend. Another treasure room, one mutant, then what I guess is a medical bay, with a guard. At some point I end up accidentally killing an informant, and I haven't the faintest idea how. Oh, well, a reload later and everything is peachy.

This Session: 1 hour

Total Time: 15 hours