800 XL/XE Diskette
"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,
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
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!
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
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
What a finale.
Could be a little bit cheaper, but still thoroughly
recommended and well worth buying.