Category Archives: adventure game

This is a triumph

5 Rogue Video Game AIs They Should Have Pulled the Plug On

Today, Artificial Intelligences are beating us at Go. Could their next move be plotting our extinction? Here are five video game AI characters that needed James T. Kirk to pull the plug:

GlaDOS (Portal - 2007, Portal 2 - 2011, Valve Corporation)

Sure, the AI matriarch (aka Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center is pure evil. After all, she did lock down the facility “within two picoseconds” of her activation and flood it with a deadly neurotoxin, and on ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’, no less. But she also serves as a twisted kind of comic relief in the excellent Portal games. In an overly polite voice (supplied by Ellen McLain) dripping with passive-aggressiveness, GLaDOS does all she can to demoralize, hinder and just plain kill the series protagonist Chell as she is forced through a series of increasingly complicated test chambers. Oh, and there’s cake too (not really).

shodan_AI

SHODAN (System Shock - 1994, Looking Glass Studios/Origin, System Shock 2 - 1999, Looking Glass Studios/Electronic Arts)

Not happy to just murder the inhabitants of the mining and research space station Citadel Station (or convert them to murderous cyborgs and mutants), SHODAN {Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) seeks to eradicate all human life on Earth, to be replaced by the devoted army she will create. A much more arrogant rogue AI than GLaDOS, SHODAN considers herself nothing less than a God. Not only this, but she mercilessly taunts the player character human ‘insect’ all the way through the games! SHODAN disciples can rejoice: she will return in System Shock 3, confirmed in December of 2015.

Robotrons (Robotron: 2084, Williams Electronics – 1984)

Set in the astounding year 2084, the plot for Robotron: 2084 marched out of the mind of legendary arcade game creator Eugene Jarvis as a kind of mechanized take on George Orwell’s 1984. In Jarvis’ dystopian future, computers have become more and more sophisticated, all in the service of solving mankind’s problems. The Robotrons become so advanced, in fact, that they decide to erase the one common denominator in the equation: humans. To facilitate our extinction, the Robotrons start cranking out lethal robots like the unstoppable Hulk, the dangerous laser-spitting Enforcers, and the diabolical Brains capable of brainwashing the wandering humans and turning them into mindless Progs.

AM (I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, The Dreamers Guild/Cyberdreams – 1995)

If you’ve seen the excellent 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, AM’s origin story might seem familiar. From the Harlan Ellison novel and video game, AM came about when an American supercomputer (known as the Allied Mastercomputer) absorbed its similar counterparts from China and Russia after gaining sentience. Seething with hatred at being imprisoned in its vast underground complex, AM proceeds to nuke humanity… save for five humans it keeps alive indefinitely to endlessly torture. A forerunner of the villainous GLaDOS, AM makes her seem like a paragon of decency.

reapers_AI

The Reapers (Mass Effect - 2007, BioWare/Microsoft Game Studios, Mass Effect 2 - 2010, BioWare/Electronic Arts, Mass Effect 3 - 2012, BioWare/Electronic Arts)

The worst on this list has to be the Reapers, a synthetic intelligence “with neither beginning nor end” that strives to hold its dominance in the galaxy by purging all organic life of a significant technological advancement. By doing this purging every 50,000 years, they eliminate any possibility that a race of intelligent beings could create a competing AI that would threaten their existence. In the bargain, they also harvest victims of inhabited worlds and convert them into Husks, zombified synthetic creatures that augment their army of ground troops.

Of course, not every AI entity in video games is malevolent. GLaDOS herself becomes a potato-based ally to Chell in Portal 2, EDI controls the Normandy in the Mass Effect games and eventually joins the fight personally as a playable character, and we have Cortana from the Halo games who made the jump to reality to assist users in real-life in Windows 10! Right now the idea of a rogue AI being able to threaten the galaxy seems pretty far-fetched, considering our smartphones can barely understand human speech with any kind of accuracy. But in 2014, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned that AI technology could render humanity obsolete, and perhaps even destroy us. And this from a guy who uses a form of AI to communicate! If video games teach us anything, it’s that we might just end up autocorrected out of existence.

Not Mostly Harmless

How to Torture Gamers Without Even Trying

Woe to the poor gamer who slid the floppy for Infocom’s computer adventure game adaptation of Douglas Adams’ seminal book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into their unsuspecting drive. Not because it was a bad game; it wasn’t. Unless you mean bad as evil. Then it was very, very bad, indeed.

Adams was an early technophile, quickly falling in love with the Apple II, and subsequently with Apple’s revolutionary Macintosh computer. He was also fond of Infocom’s adventure games, and signed a multi-game deal with the company in early 1984. Paired with famed Infocom game implementer Steve Meretzky, the two banged out the Hitchhiker’s game over a six month period; Adams writing passages in England and emailing them to Meretzky in Cambridge, MA. Meretzky ended up having to chase famous procrastinator Adams down to a remote British resort  to finish work on the game.

Cover of Hitchhiker's game, Atari 8-bit computers version

Cover of Hitchhiker’s game, Atari 8-bit computers version

 

Upon release in late 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a huge hit, moving over a quarter of a million copies. Breaking many cardinal rules then established in interactive fiction, it also caused a million hairs to be pulled out by frustrated gamers. Transgressions included outright lying to the player about available directions to travel in, and even what the player was able to see. It also often required players to have read the book to know what to do in certain situations. Perhaps worst of all, a favourite torture of Adams was to let you miss some critical piece of equipment during a scene that would cause the game to dead-end later, with no recourse but to reload a save or replay the game. At times it seemed that Hitchhiker’s was purposefully created as a ploy by Infocom to sell more of their Invisiclue hint books.

These brutalities aside, Hitchhiker’s is still an entertaining and interactive excursion through one of the greatest science fiction comedies of all time.

For more information on Hitchhiker’s and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Ad for Infocom's computer text adventure game Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams

Raise a beer to the great Douglas Adams, 1985 Ad

 

The armed and dangerous worlds of retired cop Jim Walls

Jim Walls Walks the Beat

Jim Walls joined the California Highway Patrol in 1971, working in the Southern California community of Van Nuys. In 1984 he was injured in a shootout during an enforcement stop, and while on administrative leave met Sierra boss Ken Williams via his wife Donna, a hair stylist who would occasionally cut Williams’ hair in a salon in Oakhurst. Williams was mulling over the idea of a Sierra adventure game about police work, and was looking for a consultant with real-world experience.

 

Working with Sierra, Walls would create the story for Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel, and go on to make two more games in the series, as well as the naval thriller Codename: Iceman, until leaving the company in 1991. His name would be replaced on the box by none less than former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates in Police Quest: Open Season, released in 1993. That year Walls would consult for Tsunami Media, made up of mostly ex-Sierra people, producing Blue Force, another police procedural adventure game. 

blue-force-1993

Blue Force by Tsunami, 1993

 

Subsequent to a couple of unsuccessful crowd-funding campaigns to launch a new IP in the vein of Police Quest titled Precinct, Walls settled into retirement. But his work on the Police Quest series, a beloved part of the Sierra adventure game pantheon, writes Jim Walls’ name into the books of video game history.

For more information of the history of Sierra, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

 

What's cooking at Sorcerer U. today?

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt. 5

Another serving of Late to the Party, where that sweet, sweet retro gaming cake NEVER gets stale. Today Anthony joins me in continuing the higher-education hi-jinks of one Ernie Eaglebeak, where we visit the Sorcerer U. cafeteria, and the housemaster’s wife Hillary comes on to us:

A typical dorm room at SU

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt. 4

The Party continues, long after everyone has stumbled drunkenly home and the confetti has been swept up. Today Tim Mack and I continue the game by attending a fascinating lecture on magical ethics, and take a whirl in the Simulation Chair. 

The learned lecture halls of S.U.

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt.3

Welcome back to Late to the Party, where procrastinating gamers get their decades old gaming fix. This episode, Tim Mack and I continue guiding Ernie Eaglebeak through his collegiate experience, having been previously rescued from his evil stepfather and enrolled in Sorcerer University.

Enjoy:

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2

The Ivy-covered walls of Sorcerer U

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2

Presenting our second instalment of Late to the Party, game playthroughs where we finally buy into the hype decades after a game’s release. This episode, Tim Mack joins me in continuing Steve Meretzky’s ribald 1990 text/graphic adventure game Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls. Our collegiate hero registers for classes at vaunted Sorcerer U, and gets the lay of the land, so to speak.

Class is in session. Welcome to college, Mr. Eaglebeak!

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1 
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 3

Ernie Eaglebeak and friends

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1

Welcome to Late to the Party, where we hop onto a game’s bandwagon waaay too late. This premiere instalment starts Babarnicals and me off in Steve Meretzky’s 1990 risqué adventure game classic about an abused young man who’s only hope of escaping imprisonment by his evil relative is by attending wizard school. Similarities to a certain other young wannabe wizard are purely coincidental, of course.  

Here is part one of our playthrough of Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls:

 

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 3