James Brand Adventure (1982)   8 comments

We’re essentially at a turning point for the Softside Adventure of the Month series: they numbered up to 20, and we’re at number 10.

From Softside, March 1982.

They were, to recap, a monthly series for Atari, Apple II, and TRS-80 connected with Softside magazine; mysteriously, only the Atari versions survive on many of the games. (Well, not that mysteriously on Apple II, since distributions seems mainly to have been on tape. Not a single disk has surfaced from the series on any platform that I know of, and Apple II tape preservation is terrible. I don’t think it is from modern norms either, I think it is due to it being in the top price category, allowing for disks, so people moved on from tapes much faster than with other platforms.)

Peter Kirsch is the one most associated with the series and seems to be the one who arranged the ports for when submissions came in. He also wrote three of the games so far, Arabian Adventure, Jack the Ripper, and Around the World in Eighty Days. His general operating procedure has been to focus his games around “cinematic scenes”, as opposed to open structures. This is genuinely not a common thing for this time; Crowther/Woods Adventure set the standard (gather 15 treasures, wander anywhere) and adventure games so far have generally followed this idea. Even the generally linear games like Arrow of Death haven’t generally been centered around reactive scenes, where there is a crisis (being attacked by enemy X) that is averted, immediately throwing the player into another crisis.

James Bond stories are very much series-of-cinematic-scenes fodder; 007 must defy death in some situation, and after doing so must face another situation, followed by another, etc. Every once in a while he stops to drink or gamble or seduce. So I wasn’t surprised at all when James Brand Adventure came up next on my queue that this was another Peter Kirsch jam.

As the ad I put earlier explains:

The President’s life is in danger. As James Brand, you must save his life and destroy the evil Dr. Death. Your life is constantly on the line; each move you make could be your last.

You start in a minimalist “headquarters”, without a chance to talk to Q or M.

You do have a Q-like gizmo, although it is a little hard to figure out at first.

Specifically, the parser stubbornly refuses to allow you to refer to the “SMALL SUITCASE” in inventory. It can only be referred to as a CASE. Once you do so you can open it to find a car key, but also LOOK at it to find that there are red and yellow buttons. The red button blows a smokescreen, and the yellow button shoots a knife.

Entering the car and starting it leads immediately to a danger and the scene shown: it is being remotely out of your control. I’m pretty sure this happened in a real one of the movies and Bond did something cool like hit an ejection seat button. In this game, you just turn the key to shut off the ignition.

Immediately after you end on a road where you attacked by a jousting motorcyclist wearing a suit of armor, and no, I’m not making this up.

You have about five moves to react; the best action, fortunately not hard to suss out, is to activate the smokescreen. This causes the attacker to fall off his or her bike so you can steal it.

The next part of the game lands you in a small urban environment with two scenes, buth with people trying to kill you. One involves a house with a bomb.

This isn’t too terrible a scene; all you need to do is walk out rather than read the note in order to survive, and the effect when the explosion happens (the second screen, where the text animates by inverting) is clever. Unfortunately, the whole point for going through that scene is to go back in after the explosion and find a quarter.

The author has caught the high-stakes right-action-to-survive feel of Bond, but it still does Adventure Game things, and it is about to get worse. To get to the next part of the plot, you find on another street you get slipped a node from “Madame XXX” which asks you to meet her at the Kit Kat Klub. If you go to do so:

Going back to your inventory, you’ve been toting around two cyanide pills. You can PUT PILL before sitting down to try to sneak it into Madame’s wine, but she notices and swaps the drinks.

After a large amount of parser struggle I hit upon SWITCH GLASSES. This switch-back is sufficiently stealthy somehow to work, despite Madame noticing the initial sleight-of-hand, and the poison kills her.

However, there seems to be no point to the scene: you get no information or items, not even a quarter. The scene is necessary because, nearby, there’s a HOT DOG STAND that doesn’t open until the Madame scene happens, and you need a hot dog.

I’m leaving in some of my struggle to purchase a 25 cent dog.

Before moving on: yes, as stated, “the reason to go through a scene to kill someone is to buy a hot dog” sounds absolutely absurd, but clearly what the author had in mind is a scripted series of events. Yes, as coded, one thing follows another, but my guess is that’s because whatever movie was going through Kirsch’s head ran in that sequence and he never even thought of it as cause and effect.

Back to the hot dog. So now I bought one; what was the purpose? Well, to feed a clam that was under a lake, which gives up a key that can be used to launch a speedboat.

It is my understanding this sort of thing happened all the time in the Reagan era.

The speedboat lets you get DEATH ISLAND. There’s a bit with a blade-boomerang aimed at your head…

…and then, for some reason, at the tree in the same room you can get on it and find a silencer for your gun.

The silencer is necessary to kill a guard up ahead without alerting other guards. Then you can sneak into Dr. Death’s palace only to fall immediately into a trap.

Looking at the backglass reveals a tilt light; the right command here is TILT MACHINE which causes the “ball to go out of play”. Then you can wander around the pinball machine, climb into a hole, foil some gas coming out of a vent using the trick-knife from your briefcase…

…and eventually end up in the lair of Dr. Death, who challenges you to pool.

There’s no way to get an actual pool scene here; PLAY POOL or the like doesn’t work. If you look at the table it mentions the 8 ball looks different; it is really an explosive and you can pick it up and throw it, killing the guards. Then Dr. Death takes a hostage:

Oh, you thought events so far have been goofy? Get ready for the best/worst puzzle in the game.

That bit about being sleepy: that’s supposed to be a cue to YAWN. (No, I didn’t figure this out on my own; I used Dale Dobson’s walkthrough at Gaming After 40. He didn’t figure it out either, he just checked the source code.)

After this glorious scene you can make your escape by grabbing some tacks, and as guards with swords are chasing you, drop the tacks.

But we’re not done yet! The whole issue, remember, is the assassination of the President of the United States. We can escape the island now, getting by a hungry crocodile via using a stick we found back in the palace…

…and find ourselves at, by wild coincidence, a golf course that the President happens to be playing at. There’s a nearby sewer you can dive into and find that at the hole of the course, there is a bomb wired up.

Fortunately, there’s an exposed red wire, and if you go back to the CLUBHOUSE on the golf course you can grab a “razor”. Then razor can be used to CUT WIRE and save the day.

Yes, this was bad in all sorts of ways. I was genuinely looking forward to James Brand given that Kirsch’s prior game Around the World in Eighty Days was one of the strongest of the whole Adventure of the Month series. James Brand was one of the weakest.

While Eighty Days still had a sensibility of a fast-driving plot driven by scenes, it still spends enough time to create geography at each location that it leans into the adventure format just enough to work. James Brand treats its locations with minimalist detachment and really just focuses on immediate danger-scenes. Brand also has aspirations for interesting character actions like swapping poisoned glasses that aren’t supported very well by the parser, whereas Eighty Days mostly stayed within the author’s technical chops.

In other words, it was an experiment in a different genre that just didn’t work given what a parser in BASIC is capable of.

I’ve got one more one-shot upcoming — a very curious one with a completely different setting than anything else we’ve seen — and then we’re going to make it to a substantial landmark, something that might even be, dare I say it, an actual good game. (After the sequence of Jungle Island -> Inferno -> James Brand, I can only hope.)

Oh, and I might as well give a light Ferret update. If you haven’t been following along, we are past all the spaceship part and onto the very very last puzzle, which hinges on deciphering a 16-number code. I have a feasible decipherment which might indicate we just need to SAY something to win, but the thing to say is in … Welsh? Check the thread if you want to know more. Please: if you have any thoughts, add them, because my brain is utterly melted.

Posted February 25, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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8 responses to “James Brand Adventure (1982)

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  1. “In this game, you just turn the key to shut off the ignition.”

    I understand that in the event of uncontrollable acceleration, this is still recommended advice today. (Shift into Neutral first if you can, if that does not lock up the steering.)

    “Immediately after you end on a road where you attacked by a jousting motorcyclist wearing a suit of armor, and no, I’m not making this up.”

    Seems that the game’s author had recently watched (or at least seen promotional art for) George A. Romero’s 1981 movie Knightriders: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knightriders

  2. I don’t know why it’s so hilarious to me that the first thing you do after taking inventory and seeing that you are carrying cyanide capsules is to eat one (and, predictably, die), but it is. The call of the void, I guess…

    The accelerating car: Yes but what happens if you get up to 88 miles an hour? ;)

    If the armor is too heavy for the motorcyclist to even pick themselves up off the ground… how did they get onto the motorcycle in the first place?

    However, there seems to be no point to the scene: you get no information or items, not even a quarter. The scene is necessary because, nearby, there’s a HOT DOG STAND that doesn’t open until the Madame scene happens, and you need a hot dog.

    I hate this kind of “gated” event where there’s no natural causal relationship between the things.

    What do you want to do?GIVE QUARTER

    I’m not sure we should give this game any quarter. ;)

    A giant pinball machine death trap is kind of a fun image.

  3. Your caption on the clam-gobbles-up-hot-dog screenshot got a good 5 or 6 belly laughs from me!

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