Hollywood Hijinx

John Sweeney looks for Uncle Buddy's treasure in a wacky movie adventure

 

Issue 28

Jul/Aug 87

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INFOCOM
800 XL/XE Diskette

Price 24.95

"Vampire Penguins. A Corpse Line. Meltdown on Elm Street. Who could forget these classic Hollywood movies produced by your uncle, Buddy Burbank? But his greatest masterpiece has yet to be experienced...HOLLYWOOD HIJINX, starring YOU!"

So starts the description on the back of yet another Infocom text adventure, or Interactive Fiction as they like to call them. You turn the excellent (as always) package over to check the front for Infocom's standard categorisation of difficulty level and genre and find... nothing?!

Although, from the description, one can deduce that it fits into the Mystery genre, how is one to ascertain how difficult it is? Is it like Moonmist, aimed at 9 year olds and up? Or is it like Spellbreaker be sure and buy the hints package too!? It doesn't say Introductory, Standard, Advanced or Expert in Infocom's usual manner. Have they decided that they are limiting their potential audience too much by specifying the difficulty level? Or is this just an exception? If you check out the advertising photo of the game in the brochure that comes with it (using a magnifying glass!) you can just make out that the box in the picture says "Mystery. Standard Level.". Is this all part of a plot to confuse us all? Will all be made clear when Infocom's next offering reaches us 'Bureaucracy' by Douglas Adams (of Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy Fame)? No, knowing Douglas Adams' devious mind, I suspect we will all be even more confused! Does anyone care? Or should I just get on with the review?

LOADED WITH PRACTICAL JOKES

Well, it does indeed appear to be what Infocom used(?) to classify as Standard Level. And a very enjoyable game too.

The story is set in your late uncle's Malibu mansion. According to the rather strange terms of his will you have one night to discover ten 'treasures' hidden in or around the mansion, which is loaded with practical jokes and booby traps. The 'treasures' are in fact props and memorabilia associated with your uncle's 'B' movies, including the only copy of his last, never released film 'A Corpse Line'. Buddy died of a massive heart attack while watching it. If you find it and decide to watch it in the private screening room, be sure and SAVE your game first!

The game is up to Infocom's usual high standard in nearly every respect: excellent parser, excellent vocabulary, excellent puzzles, excellent descriptions full of humour and red herrings, etc., etc. The only possible complaint is that it seems to have been finished off slightly hurriedly. They haven't implemented the abbreviation X for eXamine which they introduced in Moonmist, a great shame, and they haven't checked as carefully as usual for responses to some quite reasonable inputs, e.g. when you examine the statue in the drive where the game starts you observe that it has a belt and a mailbag (among other things), but although the game understands both 'belt' and 'mailbag' it claims neither is present when you try to examine them such items do, in fact, appear much later in the game (the belt is actually a conveyor belt!) but to find a flaw so early in the game is a trifle disconcerting. Infocom don't usually miss things like that.

One of the best aspects of many Infocom games is the logical problems with which one is faced in attempting to progress through the story. Hollywood Hijinx is no exception to this. I especially enjoyed the problems of getting light into the Bomb Shelter and reaching the Attic. Because they are so logical and so well presented, you can actually solve them while not playing the game. One of them I solved while driving to Basingstoke, the other while cleaning my teeth! It is also fascinating how different people approach problems in completely different ways. For instance, I was stuck on the problem of getting light into the Bomb Shelter for well over two hours! I tried all sorts of weird and wonderful things before I finally cracked it. But when I posed the problem to Philip Robinson (you may have seen his article and program on 3-D Graphics a couple of issues back), throwing in as many red herrings and as much extraneous information as possible, I hadn't even finished stating the situation when he said, "Well, if I was doing it, I would ..." and proceeded to outline the exact answer immediately!

Like all good adventures it has a maze. And, like all good Infocom adventures, the maze is different. This one is a hedge maze with about 180 locations! As you walk around it you get descriptions like "You walk 20' east. You are at a junction. You can go west or south." Great fun. If you do decide that you want to map it then I suggest you use graph paper, and I really think that it should have told you (since you can walk around the outside of it) that it is about 200 feet across and about 350 feet wide. I had to start three times working to smaller and smaller scales as I kept running off the edge of the paper!

A COMPLAINT?

Coming back a minute to complaints, one other complaint I have seen levelled at the game, and at Infocom in general, is that they haven't IMPROVED their standards. Other adventure producers are now producing games with high quality graphics, key-ahead on most machines, RAM SAVE facilities, 'better parsers', and so on. Personally, I am quite happy for Infocom to refrain from using graphics. I have rarely found that adding a few pictures to a game, no matter how pretty they are, does anything to improve it, unless, of course, you are going to go all the way and have the pictures contain clues and the player interact with the graphics. Games such as Black Cauldron and King's Quest III are very enjoyable but they are a rather different kettle of fish!

The question of a 'better parser' is also pretty dubious. All the attempts at that which I have seen so far have gone too far towards trying to impress you with clever imitations of artificial intelligence but always at the expense of the game play and the clarity of the game. As far as I am concerned they ARE games. And anything which detracts from my ability to enjoy the game is NOT good. Infocom's approach of defining the limitations of their syntax very precisely, and of programming the game to tell the player exactly which word or grammatical construction is not understood, is in my opinion the correct approach. This allows the player to enjoy the game without worrying whether it is the game or the player that is at fault when he or she gets stuck.

As for the other areas, RAM SAVE, key-ahead, etc., yes, it is about time Infocom decided to move with the times a little. But I can live with it as long as the games remain so enjoyable.

What do YOU think? Have Infocom been overtaken by Level 9's latest offerings (maybe we need to wait and see what Knight Orc is like!) or Magnetic Scrolls' Illustrated Interactive Fiction or Broderbund's Electronic Novels or Sierra's 3-D Animated Adventure Games or Tellarium's Interactive Adventures? What do YOU think is important in an adventure? Why not write and let us know?

Anyway, to conclude Hollywood Hijinx, once you have found the ten treasures you head to the Living Room to meet the lawyer, then you notice that your score is only 120 out of 150? Sure enough, there is a sting in the tail and, assuming you work out what to do next, you will find yourself practically inside an old 'B' movie yourself as you battle to the death against your evil Cousin Herman as a beautiful lady inches towards a whirling saw blade and a gory ending!

What a finale.

Could be a little bit cheaper, but still thoroughly recommended and well worth buying.

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