Softporn Adventure (1981)   12 comments

As you might guess from the title, viewer discretion advised, may not be safe in some environments, etc.

From a 1981 On-Line catalog. Time Zone didn’t even make it by Christmas and had to be pushed to 1982.

One thing I had no concept of before embarking on the All the Adventures project was how much sexuality was included in early text adventures.

Castle (early version 1974, existing version 1978) had multiple endings where you got to choose between going to Nirvana with a prince, a princess, or both at the same time.

You’re in Nirvana with the handsome prince, no longer a frog, AND the beautiful damsel, no longer in distress, who are tied for the title of world’s best lay!

I suspect this element came from the 1974 version, just because of the sheer rarity of a plot choice causing multiple endings, by which I mean it seems to have been conceived independently of the general tide of adventure games. Other than the Interactive Fiction series (again not following traditional adventure schemes at all), the next game I can think of which had a plot choice affect the ending (as opposed to ending being affected by not getting a full point score) is the December 1981 Softside game Black Hole Adventure.

When you exclude the Adventure variants and the Cambridge games, nearly all the mainframe games (like Aldebaran III, Mystery Mansion, Library, Battlestar, Haunt, and Lugi) had some sort of element that was at least raunchy if not outright sexual; after a (required-to-win-the-game) scene in Haunt, you get a football for having “scored a touchdown”.

With commercial games, the elements were much rarer; Odyssey #2 had an “easter egg”, and City Adventure was more up-front about the game’s objective but it gave itself a PG rating in print advertising and it cuts off before anything happens (and requires taking a TRS-80 to bed). The apparent prudishness of the genre had more to do with commercial prospects than inherent technical matters.

The commercializing issues were felt by the author of Softporn Adventure, Chuck Benton, who had originally written the game to teach himself programming on the Apple II in order to entertain himself and his friends. He decided to polish it up for the marketplace but computer magazines would not take his ads. (This is curious given there were ads for Interludes, a program meant to suggest activities for couples, but maybe the “adventure” aspect made the product feel sleazier?) However, Chuck Benton had the good fortune to meet Ken Williams at AppleFest who bought some copies, and later contacted Benton wanting to be his publisher.

From the original manual.

On-Line’s reach with retail was sufficient to get the game into stores, which apparently was bought with other On-Line products in a sandwich, like a surreptitiously inserted issue of Hustler. As Benton later described, it seemed that nearly anyone with an Apple had seen it.

A year later — after he had moved on from the game industry, Ken Williams called and indicated interest in a graphical game, offering royalties. As Benton needed money at that moment he turned down 1% royalties for a flat $5000 payment, and he says he would be “sailing the Caribbean right now” had he taken the royalties, as the new series became Leisure Suit Larry. He had, as of this 2006 interview which I’m pulling my information from, played and enjoyed the first Leisure Suit Larry (essentially a remake) but hadn’t tried any of the others. He did not mention what he thought of the Japanese PC-88 (and FM-7 and PC-98 and Sharp X1) conversion Las Vegas, which keeps it as a regular text adventure with graphics, and is the Hi-Res Adventure that Sierra On-Line never made.

This really is a direct conversion which has the same map and commands.

I had heard of this game for a while — at least 20 years — and had never gotten around to trying it. Oddly, I hadn’t heard any gameplay discussion (Jimmy Maher did a piece, but I saved reading it for after I finished), just the usual oversized history points.

So I had some half-formed expectations in my mind. The game did not meet them.

The three locations are a BAR, CASINO, and DISCO, and the game requires hopping back and forth between them in a taxi.

First off, I have to be clear: you are most definitely not playing “you”. The author’s first game was Scott Adams, and that shows here not only in the general format as shown above (with the minimalist top part, and much more verbose bottom part with joking descriptions and the like, given the Apple II gives a lot more room than a TRS-80); it shows in the idea through out all the games that “I am your puppet” — the “I” being the avatar inside the world as controlled by the player. Sometimes the Scott Adams avatar has a little bit of characterization (like Savage Island) but not so much as here:

I DREAM ABOUT GETTING THIS NICE A GIRL. I HOPE YOU PLAY THIS GAME WELL ENOUGH SO I CAN HAVE MY JOLLYS WITH HER! YOU COULD MAKE YOUR PUPPET A VERY HAPPY MAN……………

I had (incorrectly) figured the game would have put effort in making the avatar feel like a player-insert, but the game goes out of its way to do the opposite. So even though it isn’t involving a 3rd person (like Leisure Suit Larry) it means even if you personally aren’t keen on the game’s overall objective — having sex with three women in one night — there’s at least some distance going on where it is clear the game considers the main character a pervert and leverages that for humor.

There’s also a bit more twistiness to the plot than I expected. The three small areas (bar, disco, and casino) have one woman at each that need to be taken care of in that order. However, what ends up happening with woman #2 is not what our hero would have hoped for, and the person you might expect to be woman #3 turns out to be someone different entirely. This isn’t like a dating simulator; sometimes when the main character gets to an objective, he still doesn’t get what he wants. (Also — and given this is the era of Revenge of the Nerds this has to be marked as a bonus — despite our protagonist’s obsession with women as objects, every encounter is consensual.)

The bar, where you start, has a button which asks for a password. Nearby there’s a bathroom and what might be the first death by toilet in adventure games.

There’s a wedding ring in the basin (useful later) and the graffiti includes the secret word BELLYBUTTON. This lets you go back to a room with a “big man” who wants $1000 to visit a “funky hooker” upstairs.

You don’t start with $1000, but it isn’t too hard to travel to the casino and win the money. There’s a slot machine where the odds are bent to eventually gain you money, so on an emulator it is possible to just keep saying to play again and eventually rack up a large amount of cash.

The other option is to play blackjack, although the easiest way there to make money is to save the game, bet everything, and restore if the hand is a bust.

With the money in hand you can also purchase a “rubber” which is necessary to “score” with the “funky hooker”.

THE SCORE NOW IS ‘1’ OUT OF A POSSIBLE ‘3’…..SO CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!

This gives you access to some “candy” in the room which goes the next woman, who is in a disco. (The one our protagonist apparently “dreams” about).

In addition to the candy you need to gather some flowers and the wedding ring I mentioned earlier; she’ll then tell you to meet her at a wedding chapel, which feels like it is missing some steps, especially since when you go to the wedding chapel (at the casino) and MARRY GIRL our protagonist asks “what am I doing?”

You can then meet the woman at the wedding suite, score a second point, but find in the process she ties you to the bed and runs off. I had a knife with me when this scene happened so was able to CUT ROPE; I’m guessing it’s game over if you don’t. (This is what I mean about the protagonist not exactly getting what they want — not only did they question getting married, they didn’t exactly have a great experience with #2.)

Interlude: at one point in all this you need to flip through a TV to distract the pimp and get back upstairs, because the rope that the protagonist was tied up with can be used to reach a new area with some pills.

For the last woman, it might be — based on the expectations of our puppet — a “blonde” in the casino with the “tightest jeans” who is a “36-24-35” and a “smile that dazzles me.” She’ll take the pills I just mentioned in the interlude above, but then will run off to her boyfriend and she’s completely out of the game. (Imagine if a modern dating simulator did this!)

This fortunately opens a new area, where the protagonist finds “Eve”.

There’s an apple you can get through other shenanigans (I won’t go through every detail) but it leads to completing the game.

You need to plant some “seeds” in this location and water them.

Some of the humor is on the Porky’s level, and a few scenes are just strange, like the bit where if you take wine with you in the taxi your taxi driver will grab the bottle and chug it and there’s an extended scene which ends with the protagonist getting run over and the game jumping straight to the Apple II prompt (there’s not even a one-in-three chance of revival like the screen I showed earlier). I will say the author neatly evaded some pain points as mazes and light sources from this era. The parser is still not perfect (I had to struggle at times, including coming up with USE to apply the rope) and there’s nothing in the prose that raises above what is essentially a prank game originally written for friends, but I can at least understand how the startlingly high sales were more than just a fluke.

If nothing else, out of all 1981 games, it perhaps has the longest legacy of all. Even Zork is moribund as intellectual property, but there still keep appearing new Leisure Suit Larry games, including one from last year.

Posted December 3, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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12 responses to “Softporn Adventure (1981)

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  1. Compared to some other games you’ve played where the sexual content is really cringeworthy, Softporn is really nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Is there such a thing as being “refreshingly honestly sleazy”?

    The literal Garden of Eden scene is pretty weird though. I’m glad they dropped that in LSL.

    • Maybe the “honestly” bit — in a lot of these other cases it isn’t signaled very strong the content is coming up. (Haunt at least asks the question about sexual preference.)

      However, I think the closest comparison is City Adventure, and did signal where it was going up-front but still felt dubious. Maybe it’s that (at least at this phase of history) adventure game romances are almost guaranteed to be stilted in a comedic way, and rather than leaning into the satiric idea of giving random gifts to a woman at the disco and suddenly ending up married, it just honestly thinks a TRS-80 in bed will result in a sex scene.

  2. The link to the Interludes ad doesn’t go anywhere.

    Out of curiosity, is there a reason why you consider Las Vegas a PC-88 title? I was under the impression that Starcraft sort of just put out their titles on all Japanese computers at once. (and also that PC-88 and PC-98 versions could very well be the one and the same, judging by one box cover I’ve seen for a Scott Adams title)

    • Good point, I just put the platform I used for the screenshot, I’ll edit in the other three.

      I also fixed the broken link, thanks!

      If you like Japanese adventure games, we’ve got 5 of them (well, sort of 4, one’s in English) coming up for 1982.

      • Good luck with some of them. I know from experience that a Japanese parser is hell to deal with. The whole language is back in these years, but the parser is ten different kinds of fun. Good thing that a surprising number use English parsers, which makes everything much easier to deal with.
        Didn’t know one was in English, I’m guessing it was always that way? I’m not aware of any unofficial translations for games that early.

      • Yes, it was written in English.

        Earliest fan-translated I know of is Portopia Serial Murder Case, which was 1985. Haven’t investigated much if any earlier have been done, but I’m 99% sure nothing with a parser has had any fan work.

      • There’s one that got translated for PC-6001/FM-7 called Earthbound, though I think the parser was already in English. I won’t say anymore because its from 1983.

    • Just a quick notice that Micro Cabin’s Mystery House 1 and 2 have both now gotten translation patches.

      https://www.romhacking.net/translations/6494/

      https://www.romhacking.net/translations/6497/

  3. “If nothing else, out of all 1981 games, it perhaps has the longest legacy of all.”

    Sir-Tech’s “Wizardry” has kept chugging along in Japan.

    • I need to try some of the JP-only Wizardries sometime. I think I’d like the Gameboy ones. (I even have a flashcard so I could use real hardware, although maybe I’ll wait until I can get my hands on an Analogue Pocket.)

      Anyway, I was meaning adventures. When you include everything, Space Invaders still has legs, and Pac-Man definitely does.

    • Not from 1981, but what about Colossal Cave Adventure? Granted, when these posts were made we didn’t know that Robert and Ken Williams new game would be a 3D remake of the original, but its had enough ports and remake attempts over the years that it has a pretty good amount of chugging going along. Possibly Zork too, though that one depends on if you count the MMO and those comic book games.
      (and its only now I realize that Jason posted here not to reply to this, but to mention that the JPN-only Mystery Houses got translations)

      • This was about general modern longevity. I think “people recognize the game exists” or “the basic gameplay is still a source of derivatives” is a little different than what I was thinking of, which is straight-up IP use (i.e. Namco still makes buckets of money from Pac-Man, and while I appreciate all that Ken and Roberta Williams did, I don’t think the Colossal Cave IP is gonna bring in the clicks. Their own names might, though.)

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